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This work demonstrates that ions have a strong impact on the growth per cycle (GPC) and material properties during plasma-assisted atomic layer deposition (ALD) of TiO2 (titanium dioxide), even under mild plasma conditions with low-energy (<20 eV) ions. Using vertical trench nanostructures and microscopic cavity structures that locally block the flux of ions, it is observed that the impact of (low-energy) ions is an important factor for the TiO2 film conformality. Specifically, it is demonstrated that the GPC in terms of film thickness can increase by 20 to >200% under the influence of ions, which is correlated with an increase in film crystallinity and an associated strong reduction in the wet etch rate (in 30:1 buffered HF). The magnitude of the influence of ions is observed to depend on multiple parameters such as the deposition temperature, plasma exposure time, and ion energy, which may all be used to minimize or exploit this effect. For example, a relatively moderate influence of ions is observed at 200 °C when using short plasma steps and a grounded substrate, providing a low ion-energy dose of ∼1 eV nm-2 cycle-1, while a high effect is obtained when using extended plasma exposures or substrate biasing (∼100 eV nm-2 cycle-1). This work on TiO2 shows that detailed insight into the role of ions during plasma ALD is essential for precisely controlling the film conformality, material properties, and process reproducibility.
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