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Theses Doctoral

Microstructure Analysis and Surface Planarization of Excimer-laser Annealed Si Thin Films

Yu, Miao

The excimer-laser annealed (ELA) polycrystalline silicon (p-Si or polysilicon) thin film, which influences more than 100-billion-dollar display market, is the backplane material of the modern advanced LCD and OLED products. The microstructure (i.e. ELA microstructure) and surface morphology of an ELA p-Si thin film are the two main factors determining the material properties, and they significantly affect the performance of the subsequently fabricated thin film transistors (TFTs). The microstructure is the result of a rather complex crystallization process during the ELA which is characterized as far-from-equilibrium, multiple-pulse-per-area and processing-parameter dependent. Studies of the ELA microstructure and the surface morphology closely related to the device performance as well as the microstructure evolution during the ELA process are long-termly demanded by both the scientific research and the industrial applications, but unfortunately have not been thoroughly performed in the past.

The main device-performance-related characteristics of the ELA microstructure are generally considered to be the grain size and the presence of the dense grain boundaries. In the work of this thesis, an image-processing-based program (referred to as the GB extraction program) is developed to extract the grain boundary map (GB map) out of the transmission electron microscope (TEM) images of the ELA microstructure. The grain sizes are straightforwardly calculated from the GB map and statistically analyzed. More importantly, based on the GB maps, we propose and perform a rigorous scheme that we call the local-microstructure analysis (LMA) to quantitatively and systematically analyze the spatial distribution of the grain boundaries. The “local area” is mainly defined by the geometry and the location of a TFT. The successful extraction of the GB map and the subsequent LMA are permitted by our unique TEM skills to produce high-resolution TEM micrographs containing statistically significant number of grains for sensible quantitative analysis. The LMA unprecedentedly enables quantitative and rigorous analysis of spatial characteristics of the microstructure, especially the device geometry- and location-related characteristics. Additionally, we present and highlight the benefits of the LMA approach over the traditional statistical grain-size analysis of the ELA microstructure.

From the grain-size analysis, we find that grain size across a statistically significant number of grains generally follows the same distribution as in the stochastic grain growth scenario at the beginning of the ELA process when the laser pulse (i.e. shot) number is small. As the shot number increases, the overall grain size monotonically increases while the distribution profile becomes broader. When the scan number reaches the ELA threshold (several tens of laser shots), the distribution profile substantially deviates from the stochastic profile and shows two sharp peaks in grain size around 300nm and 450nm, which is consistent with the previously proposed theory of energy coupling and nonuniform energy deposition during ELA. From the LMA, local nonuniformity of grain boundary density (GB density) at the device length scales and regions of high grain boundary periodicity are identified.

More importantly, we find that the local nonuniformity is much more pronounced when p-Si film exhibits some level of spatial ordering, but less pronounced for a random grain arrangement. It is worth noting that the devices of different sizes and orientation have different sensitivity to the local nonuniformity of the ELA-generated p-Si thin film. In addition, based on the analysis results, the connection between the microstructure evolution and the partial melting and resolidification process of the Si film is discussed.

Aside from the microstructure, the surface morphology of the ELA films, featuring pronounced surface protrusions, is characterized via an atomic force microscope (AFM). Attempts to planarize those surface protrusions detrimental to the subsequent device performance are conducted. In the attempts, the as-is (oxide-capped) ELA films and the BHF-treated ELA films are subjected to single shots of excimer irradiation. When the results are compared, an anisotropic melting phenomenon of the p-Si grains is identified, which appears to be strongly affected by the presence of the surface oxide capping layer. Conceptual models are developed and numerical simulations are employed to explain the observation of the anisotropic melting phenomenon and the effect of the surface oxide layer. Eventually, 41.8% reduction of root mean square (RMS) surface roughness is achieved for BHF-treated ELA films.

The results gained in the systematic analysis of the ELA microstructure and the attempt of surface planarization further our understanding about (1) the device performance-related material microstructure of the ELA p-Si thin films, (2) the microstructure evolution occurring during multiple shots of the ELA process, and (3) the fundamental phase transformations in the far-from-equilibrium melt-mediated excimer-laser annealing processing of p-Si thin films. Such understanding could help engineers when designing the microelectronic devices and the ELA manufacturing process, as well as provide scientific researchers with insights on the melting and solidification of general polycrystalline materials, thus profoundly contributing to both the related scientific society and the technological community. The GB extraction program and the LMA scheme developed and demonstrated in the thesis, as another contribution to the related research filed, could also be generalized to the microstructural study of other polycrystalline materials where grain geometry and arrangement are of concern.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Mechanical Engineering
Thesis Advisors
Im, James Sungbin
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
September 22, 2020