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Electrical Characterization of High-K Dielectric Gates for Microelectronic Devices

Written By

Salvador Dueñas, Helena Castán, Héctor García and Luis Bailón

Submitted: 15 November 2011 Published: 03 October 2012

DOI: 10.5772/50399

From the Edited Volume

Dielectric Material

Edited by Marius Alexandru Silaghi

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1. Introduction

The continuous miniaturization of complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) technologies has led to unacceptable tunneling current leakage levels for conventional thermally grown SiO2 gate dielectrics [1,2]. During the last years, many efforts have been devoted to investigate alternative high-permittivity (high-k) dielectrics that could replace SiO2 and SiON as gate insulators in MOS transistors [3]. The higher dielectric constant provides higher gate capacitances with moderated thickness layers; however, other requirements such as lower leakage currents, high breakdown fields, prevention of dopant diffusion, and good thermodynamic stability must also be fulfilled. A number of high-k materials have been investigated as candidates to replace the SiO2 as gate dielectric, being Al2O3 and HfO2 among the most studied ones [3–5], since both have a larger permittivity than SiO2 and are thermodynamically stable in contact with silicon. The electrical characteristics of the as-deposited layers of these materials, however, exhibit large negative fixed charge and interface state densities and charge trapping as compared to SiO2, although these characteristics can be improved by including an intermediate oxide between the high-k layer and the silicon substrate [6–8] or by high-temperature post-deposition processes.[9–13]. In addition to binary oxides, laminates of them show an improvement of the electrical characteristics as compared to the single oxide layers [14]. In particular, Al2O3–HfO2 laminates and alloys benefit from the higher k of HfO2 and the higher crystallization temperature of Al2O3 [15,16]

In this chapter we review the standard techniques as well as the new ones which we have developed for the electrical characterization of very thin insulating films of high k dielectrics for metal-insulator-semiconductor (MIS) gate and metal-insulator-metal (MIM) capacitor applications. These techniques have been conceived to provide detailed information of defects existing in the insulator bulk itself and interface traps appearing at the insulator-semiconductor substrate interface. Several methods exist to obtain defect densities at insulator/semiconductor interface, such as deep level transient technique (DLTS), high and low (quasi static) frequency capacitance-voltage measurements and admittance spectroscopy.

However, the study of defects existing inside the gate dielectric bulk is not so widely established. Two techniques have been developed by us to accomplish it: conductance transient technique (GTT) and Flat-Band Voltage transients (FBT) measurements.

GTT is very useful when exploring disordered-induced gap states (DIGS) defects distributed inside the dielectric. This technique has been successfully applied to many high-k dielectric films on silicon. From conductance transient measurements we have obtained 3D profiles or contour maps showing the spatial and energetic distribution of electrically active defects inside the dielectric, preferentially located at regions close to the dielectric/semiconductor interface.

The FBT approach consists of a systematic study of flat-band voltage transients occurring in high-k dielectric-based metal-insulator-semiconductor (MIS) structures. While high-k material can help to solve gate leakage problems with leading-edge processes, there are still some remaining challenges. There are, indeed, several technical hurdles such as threshold voltage instability, carrier channel mobility degradation, and long-term device reliability. One important factor attributed to these issues is charge trapping in the pre-existing traps inside the high-k gate dielectrics. Dependencies of the flat-band voltage transients on the dielectric material, the bias history, and the hysteresis sign of the capacitance-voltage (C-V) curves are demonstrated. Flat bat voltage transients provide the soft optical phonon energy of dielectric thin-films. This energy usually requires chemical-physical techniques in bulk material. In contrast, FBT provides this magnitude for thin film materials and from electrical measurements, so adding an extra value to our experimental facilities.

Throughout the chapter we will give detailed information about the theoretical basis, experimental set-up and how to interpret the experimental results for all the above techniques.

Another topic widely covered will be the current mechanisms observed on high k materials. The above-mentioned methods allow determining the density and location of defects on the dielectric. These defects are usually responsible for the conduction mechanisms. The correlation between conduction mechanisms, defect location and preferential energy values provides very relevant information about the very nature of defects and how these defects can be removed or diminished.

We have studied many high-k materials during the last years, covering all proposed around the world as gate dielectric on silicon. These dielectrics consist of single layers of metal oxides and silicates (e.g.: HfO2, ZrO2, HfSiOx, Gd2O3, Al2O3, TiO2, and much more) directly deposited on n- and p- type silicon, combination of them in the form of multilayers, and gate stacks with silicon oxide or silicon nitride acting as interface layers which prevent from thermodynamic instabilities of directly deposited high-k films on silicon substrates. Figure 1 summarizes the atomic elements used as precursors of the high-k dielectrics we have studied in our laboratory. An extended summary of the more relevant results obtained will be also included in the chapter. Another topics covered in this chapter include: high-k fabrication methods: ALD, CVD, High Pressure Sputtering, etc., influence of the process parameters on the quality of as-grown and thermally annealed materials, or charge trapping at the inner interface layers on gate-stacks and multilayer films.

Figure 1.

Periodic table with marks on the atomic elements from which high-k materials (mainly oxides and silicates) have been fabricated.


2. Standard characterization methods

2.1. Capacitance-Votage measurements

Capacitance-Voltage is the most frequently used electrical technique to assess the properties of both the thin oxide layer and its interface with the semiconductor substrate. In thicker oxide layers (more than 4-5 nm) C–V curves can be fitted satisfactorily with classical models, described in textbooks. The C–V technique can be used to determine flatband and threshold voltage, fixed charge, and interface state density. It is also often used to calculate the oxide thickness.

The ideal expression of a MIS structure in accumulation regime is:Cac=kε0Atox. Non-ideal effects in MOS capacitors include fixed charge, mobile charge and surface states. Performing a capacitance-voltage measurement allows identifying all three types of charge. Charge existing in the dielectric film shifts the measured curve. Trapping and detrapping of defects inside the insulator produce hysteresis in the high frequency capacitance curve when sweeping the gate voltage back and forth.

Finally, surface states at the semiconductor-insulator interface also modify the CV curves. As the applied voltage varies the Fermi level at the interface changes and affects the occupancy of the surface states. The interface states cause the transition in the capacitance measurement to be stretched out In Figure 2 we show experimental high frequency C-V results for hafnium oxide MIS structures measured at room temperature. Atomic Layer Deposition technique was used to grow these 20 nm-thick HfO2 films

Figure 2.

C-V curves of Al/HfO2/n-Si capacitors obtained by Atomic Layer Deposition

The combination of the low and high frequency capacitance (HLCV) [17] allows calculating the surface state density. This method provides the surface state density over a limited (but highly relevant) range of energies within the bandgap. Measurements on n-type and p-type capacitors at different temperatures provide the surface state density throughout the bandgap. A capacitance meter is usually employed to measure the high-frequency capacitance, CHF. The quasi-static measurement of the low frequency capacitance, CLF, consists on recording the gate current whereas a ramp-voltage is applied to the gate terminal. Interface state density is obtained according the following expression:


In sub-4 nm oxide layers, C–V measurements provide the same information, but the interpretation of the data requires considerable caution. The assumptions needed to construct the ‘‘classical model’’ are no longer valid, and quantum mechanical corrections become mandatory, thus increasing the complexity of the analytical treatment: Maxwell–Boltzman statistics no longer describe the charge density in the inversion and accumulation layers satisfactorily, and should be replaced by Fermi–Dirac statistics. In addition, band bending in the inversion layer near the semiconductor–insulator interface becomes very strong, and a potential well is formed by the interface barrier and the electrostatic potential in the semiconductor. The correct analytical treatment requires solving the complex coupled effective mass Schroedinger and Poisson equations self-consistently.

2.2. Current measurements and conduction mechanisms

The performance of MOS devices strongly depends on the breakdown properties and the current transport behaviors of the gate dielectric films. The conduction mechanisms are very sensitive to the film composition, film processing, film thickness, and energy levels and densities of trap in the insulator films. Therefore, the analysis of the dominant conduction mechanisms may provide relevant information on the physical nature of the dielectric film and complements other characterization techniques when optimizing fabrication process. The most commonly found mechanisms as well as the voltage and temperature laws for each one are summarized in Figure 3.

Figure 3.

Main conduction mechanisms on Metal-Insulator- Semiconductor devices

  • Electrode-limited mechanisms: When the dielectric has high bandgap, high energy barrier with electrodes and low trap density, conduction is more electrode-limited than bulk limited. For a large applied bias, the silicon surface is n-type degenerated regardless of the bulk doping. Hence, for a large applied voltage the current is limited by tunneling (independent of the temperature) from the vicinity of the silicon conduction band edge through the triangular barrier into the oxide conduction band (Fowler-Nordheim effect). When barriers are no so high, conduction may occur when electrons or holes are promoted from the corresponding band to the insulator bands (Schottky effect). That occurs at lower voltages than Fowler-Nordheim mechanisms.

  • Bulk limited mechanisms: As the insulators become more defective, as is the case of practically all high-k dielectrics, bulk-limited conduction predominates due to traps inside the insulator. Sometimes current density is due to field enhanced thermal excitation of trapped electrons into the conduction band. This process is known as the Internal Schottky or Poole Frenkel effect. The hopping of thermally excited between isolated states gives an ohmic I–V characteristic, exponentially dependent on temperature.

  • Tunnel limited mechanisms: As dielectric films become thinner, tunneling conduction gradually dominates the conduction mechanisms. It may occur via defects in a two-step (or trap-assisted) tunneling or by direct tunneling from one electrode to the other.

In Figure 4 we draw the I-V characteristics at different temperatures of an Al2O3–based MIS sample fabricated by Atomic Layer Deposition. Leakage current clearly increases with temperature at lower gate voltages. I-V curves of all the samples were fitted according to the Poole-Frenkel emission, so indicating that the main conduction mechanism is bulk related.

Figure 4.

I-V curves at several temperatures and Poole-Frenkel fitting of an ALD Al2O3–based MIS sample

2.3. Admittance spectroscopy

The admittance spectroscopy or conductance method, proposed by Nicollian and Goetzberger in 1967, is one of the most sensitive methods to determine Dit [18]. Interface trap densities of 109 cm−2 eV−1 and lower can be measured. It is also the most complete method, because it yields Dit in the depletion and weak inversion portion of the bandgap, the capture cross-sections for majority carriers, and information about surface potential fluctuations. The technique is based on measuring the equivalent parallel conductance of an MIS capacitor as a function of bias voltage and frequency. The conductance, representing the loss mechanism due to interface trap capture and emission of carriers, is a measure of the interface trap density. Interface traps at the insulator-Si interface, however, are continuously distributed in energy throughout the Si band gap. Capture and emission occurs primarily by traps located within a few kT/q above and below the Fermi level, leading to a time constant dispersion and giving the normalized conductance as


where τit=[vthσpNA exp(qSkT)]1is the emission time constant of interface traps with energyS.

The conductance is measured as a function of frequency and plotted as G/ω versus ω. G /ω has a maximum at ω =1/τit and at that maximum Dit = 2G /qω. For equation (2) we find ω ≈ 2/τit and Dit =2.5 G/qω at the maximum.

It is also possible to make measurements by varying the temperature and keeping the frequency constant [19], instead of changing the frequency at constant temperature. This has the advantage of not requiring measurements over a wide frequency range and one can chose a frequency for which series resistance is negligible. Elevated temperature measurements enhance the sensitivity near mid-gap allowing the detection of trap energy levels and capture cross sections [20]. It also is possible to use transistors instead of capacitors and measure the transconductance instead of the conductance but still use the concepts of the conductance method [21]. This allows interface trap density determination on devices with the small gate areas associated with transistors without the need for capacitance test structures.

2.4. Other thecniques

In this section we include several electrical characterization techniques that are useful for probing microscopic bonding structures, defects, and impurities in high-k dielectrics, as described in [22].

2.4.1. Inelastic electron tunneling spectroscopy (IETS)

IETS is a novel technique that can probe phonons, traps, microscopic bonding structures, and impurities in high-k gate dielectrics with a superior versatility and sensitivity when compared with other techniques. This technique basically takes the second derivative of the tunneling I–V characteristic of an ultrathin MOS structure. The basic principle of the IETS technique is illustrated in Figure 5. Without any inelastic interaction, the I–V characteristic is smooth and its second derivative is zero. When the applied voltage causes the Fermi-level separation to be equal to the characteristic interaction energy of an inelastic energy loss event for the tunneling electron, then an additional conduction channel (due to inelastic tunneling) is established, causing the slop of the I–V characteristic to increase at that voltage, and a peak in its second derivative plot, where the voltage location of the peak corresponds to the characteristic energy of the inelastic interaction, and the area under the peak is proportional to the strength of the interaction.

Figure 5.

Principles of IETS technique [22].

In a typical MOS sample, there are more than one inelastic mode, as a wide variety of inelastic interactions may take place, including interactions with phonons, various bonding vibrations, bonding defects, and impurities. Figure 6 shows an actual IETS spectrum taken on an Al/HfO2/Si sample, where the features below 80 meV correspond to Si phonons and Hf–O phonons, and the features above 120 meV correspond to Hf–Si–O and Si–O phonons. The significance of this IETS spectrum is that it confirms the strong electron–phonon interactions involving optical phonons in HfO2, and that the Hf–O phonons have very similar energy range as Si phonons which we know are a source of scattering centers that degrade the channel mobility.

Figure 6.

IETS for HfO2 on Si under different bias polarities: (a) forward bias (gate electrode positive), (b) reverse bias (gate electrode negative) [22].

2.5. Lateral profiling of threshold voltages, interface traps, and oxide trapped charge

Lateral profiling is a charge-pumping technique that enables one to profile the lateral distribution of threshold voltages of a MOSFET, and the lateral distributions of interface traps and oxide trapped charge generated by hot-carrier damage [23-24]. Figure 7(a) shows the Icp–Vh curves for the source (curve 1) and the drain junction (curve 2) prior to hot-carrier damage, from which one can obtain the threshold voltage distributions near the two junctions (Figure 7(b)) using the Vh-Vt(x) relationship as described in [25, 26]. Then a channel hot-carrier (CHC) stressing for 300 s to damage the device is used. Comparing curves 2 and 1 in Figure 8(a), one can see that the CHC stressing is not only generated Nit but also caused by positive charge inside the insulator gate, Qot. Therefore, one must neutralize this Qot before proceeding, and this was accomplished by a light hot electron injection as shown by curve 3 in Fig. 8. Note that this step did not cause any increase in Nit as evidenced by the unchanged Icp,max.

Figure 7.

a) Single-junction charge pumping curves measured either with the source floating (curve 1) or with the drain floating (curve 2). (b) Local Vt distribution across the channel as deduced from the data in (a).(From Reference [22])

These three Icp curves were then used to extract the Nit(x) from the difference between curves 3 and 1 at a given Vh, and Qot(x), from the voltage shift between 2 and 3 at a given Icp (Figure 8(b)).

Figure 8.

a) Three charge pumping curves measured for the purpose of directly profiling the erase-induced damage, and graphically illustrating the direct lateral profiling principle. (b) Lateral profiles of both positive oxide charge and interface traps near the source junction, transformed from the three charge pumping curves in (a).(From Reference [22]).

2.6. Pulse agitated substrate hot electron injection (PASHEI) technique for studying trapping parameters

PASHEI technique [27, 28] can be used to study charge trapping in the gate dielectric of an MOSFET under low gate biases. The commonly used carrier injection techniques, such as Fowler–Nordheim (FN) tunneling, and CHC techniques require high gate field to obtain high injection flux, which makes it impractical to study trapping effects under low gate fields when the injection flux is extremely low. Another technique, the substrate hot-electron injection (SHEI) technique, does allow high flux injection at low gate fields, but it requires a separate p–n junction injector in the vicinity of the MOSFET being tested, which rules out most of the devices available for test. In contrast, the PASHEI technique, which will be described below, allows substrate hot-electron injection with just an ordinary MOSFET without a separate injector. The PASHEI technique relies on properly timed pulse sequences to achieve SHEI, as illustrated schematically in Figure 9 for an n-MOSFET. As shown in Figure 9(b), during the electron-emitting phase, the S/D junction is forward biased, and electrons are injected into the substrate. Subsequently, the S/D is reverse biased to create a deep depletion region, which will cause the previously injected electrons in the substrate (those that have not recombined away) to be accelerated across the depletion region and injected into the gate dielectric. This period is called the collecting phase, during which the emitting voltage can control the gate voltage, and large injection current can be achieved with low Vg. Figure 10 illustrates the use of the Vth vs. Ninj curve, obtained by the PASHEI technique, to extract trap parameters. For this particular sample, we obtained a trap density of 2.7 x1012 cm-2, and capture cross-section of 7.7 10-19 cm2, by fitting the trapping theory presented by Zafar [29].

Figure 9.

a) Schematic description of PASHEI. (b) Pulse sequence for PASHEI. (From Reference [22])

Figure 10.

Vth vs. Ninj curve obtained by the PASHEI technique, to extract trap parameters. (From Reference [22])


3. Advanced techniques

In this section we show three techniques set up in our laboratory: Single shot DLTS, which provides interface state densities), Conductance transient technique used to profile disorder induced gap states in the insulator zones close to the interface, and Flat-band voltage transient technique from which slow traps distribution inside the insulator is obtained.

3.1. Single shot deep-level transient spectroscopy

Deep-level transient spectroscopy (DLTS) has been widely used to characterize localized deep levels in semiconductor junctions. This technique is also useful to measure interface traps in the insulator-semiconductor interface. The instrumentation for interface trapped charge DLTS is identical to that for bulk deep level DLTS. However, the data interpretation is different because interface traps are continuously distributed in energy through the band gap, whereas bulk traps have discrete energy levels.

Single-shot DLTS measurements consist on recording and processing 1-MHz isothermal capacitance transients at temperatures from 77 K to room temperature. A programmable source is used together with a pulse generator to introduce the quiescent bias and the filling pulse, respectively. Dit is obtained by first applying a pulse which drives the MIS capacitor to accumulation, in order to fill the interface traps. Afterwards, the bias quickly returns to the limit between depletion and weak inversion, then traps formerly filled are emptied yielding the capacitance transients which are recorded for the DLTS processing. The isothermal capacitance transients are captured by a 1 MHz capacitance meter and a digital oscilloscope. The digital oscilloscope allows us to record the entire capacitance transient and, in this way, we can process the entire energy spectrum with only one temperature scan.

Once the capacitance transients have been captured, we process them as follows: we chose two times t1 and t2 (the window rate). The difference in the capacitance value at these times is the DLTS correlation signal which is given by [30, 31]:

ΔC  =   C(t1)3εSND1CoxEFt1EFt2[exp(ent1)exp(ent2)]Dit   E3

The emission rate, en, depends on temperature and on energy, ET, according the well-known Arrhenius law:

en=σnvnNcexp[ETECkT] E4

Where ϡn is the capture cross section, vnis the electron thermal velocity and NC is the efective state density at the silicon conduction band. According equation (3), all the interface states contribute to the correlation function, but only those with emission rates in the range of the window rate have non negligible contribution. Indeed, the correlation function has a maximum for:


If we assume that capture cross section has not strong variations with energy, we can find the energy of interface traps which have the maximum contribution to the correlation function:


C(ET) has a maximum at the energy given by equation (6) and decays very sharply when energy varies from the maximum. Only interface traps with energies close to the maximum contribute to the DLTS signal, and a more simple form equation (3) can be obtained:


And the interface state density at the energy of the maximum:


Equation (6) indicates that for a given window rate the energy is proportional to temperature. Therefore, low temperature transients provide Dit for states close to the majority carriers semiconductor band (conduction band for n-type or valence band for p-type). As temperature increases deeper states densities are obtained. Equation (8) says that Dit is proporcional to C/T, that is, the sensitivity is lower for deeper states. Since SS-DLTS is a differential technique, its sensitivity is much higher than Capacitance-Voltage or Conductance-Voltage Techniques. Typical sensitivities are in the range of 109 eV-1 cm-2, which are lower than the state-of-the-art of thermal silicon oxide with silicon interface. Figure 11 is an example of SS-DLTS applied to the case of a hafnium silicate/silicon oxide on n-type silicon. The silicate was deposited by atomic layer deposition. In this case, we studied the effect of post deposition thermal annealing on the quality of the interface.

3.2. Conductance transient technique

All gate dielectrics exhibit conductance transients in MIS structures when are driven from deep to weak inversion [32]. This behavior is explained in terms of disorder-induced gap states (DIGS) continuum model suggested by Hasegawa et al.[33]. These authors proposed that lattice breaking at semiconductor/insulator interface causes defects with a continuous distribution both in energy and in space. Conductance transient phenomena are due to charge and discharge of DIGS states assisted by majority carriers coming from the corresponding semiconductor band by means of a tunneling assisted mechanism. Transients can be understood looking at Figure 12 which is referred to a MIS structure over an n-type semiconductor substrate. When the bias pulse is applied, empty DIGS trap electrons coming from the conduction band (n-MIS structure). EF and E’ are the locations of the Fermi level before and after the pulse. Capture process is assisted by tunneling and is, thus, time consuming, so empty states near the interface capture electrons before the states deep in the dielectric. xC is the distance covered by the front of tunneling electrons during the time t. It is important to note here that only those states with emission and capture rates of the same order of magnitude than the frequency have non-zero contributions to the conductance [34]. If an experimental frequency b is assumed, only those states with emission rates in the range b ±∆ can contribute to the conductance (those located over equiemission line en = b), so only when the front of tunneling electrons reaches point A conductance increases. Then, when point B is reached, conductance transient follows the DIGS states distribution which is typically decreasing as we move away from interface, in agreement with Hasegawa’s model [33]. Finally, conductance returns to its initial value when the front reaches point C, since after this point DIGS states susceptible to contribute to the conductance signal have energies strongly apart of the Fermi level and, then, they remain empty. Figure 12 is a schematic of the conductance transient principle.

Figure 11.

Interface state profiles for Al/HfSixOy/SiO2/n-Si capacitors.

Figure 12.

a) Schematic band diagram of an I–S interface illustrating the capture electrons by DIGS continuum states during a conductance transient. (b) General shape of the conductance transient.

In the following, we show the model developed by us [35] to obtain DIGS states as a function of the spatial distance to the interface and the energy position by measuring conductance transients at different frequencies and temperatures. The calculation details presented here are for the case of an n-MIS structure. Similar equations can be derived for p-MIS devices. Our model departs from the conductance method typically used to obtain the interface state density, Dit, in MIS devices. For an angular frequency,, Dit is related to conductance by Dit=GSS0.4qAϧ [36] where GSS is the stationary value of the conductance. Variations of this value are due to the DIGS contribution to the conductance:


where E(t) is the energy of the DIGS states which a given time t during the transient contribute to the conductance variation. xC(t) is the distance covered by the front of tunneling electrons during the time t, and is given byxc(t)=xonln(σovthnst), where xon=h22meffHeffis the tunneling decay length, 0 is the carrier capture cross-section value for x = 0, vth is the carrier thermal velocity in the semiconductor, and ns is the free carrier density at the interface. Finally, meff is the electron effective mass at the dielectric and Heff is the insulator semiconductor energy barrier for majority carriers, that is, the dielectric to semiconductor conduction band offset. Figure 13 shows xon for some high-k dielectrics (electron effective mass and barrier height values have been obtained from References [3] and [37] respectively). One can see that xon is higher for dielectrics in which Heff and meff are low. In these cases, the tunneling front xC is faster and, consequently, transients reach deeper locations in the dielectric. An important trend can be derived from this figure: as permittivity increases, tunneling decay length increases providing deeper DIGS profiles.

Figure 13.

Tunneling decay length versus permittivity for several dielectrics.

Finally, to obtain the energy position of DIGS states in the band gap of the dielectric, we use equi-emission line equations [33], and considering that the measurement frequency is related to emission rate by en = /1.98 [36], we obtain the following equation:


Figure 14.

Example of DIGS profile: atomic layer deposited Gadolinium oxide films.

When temperature decreases the emission rates of all interface states exponentially decrease, and the equi-emission lines shift approaching the interface. Thus, transients are modified in a similar way as when frequency is increased while keeping constant the temperature. DIGS three-dimensional profile or contour line maps can be obtained using Equations (9) and (10). As for the experimental sensitivity, temperature measurement involves an error of 0.1 K. Estimated errors of energy and defect concentration values on DIGS profiles are of about 10 meV and 5x109 eV-1cm-2, respectively. Estimated precision on DIGS depth is of about 2 Å.

The experimental set-up consists of a pulse generator to apply bias pulses, a lock-in analyzer to measure the conductance, and a digitizing oscilloscope to record conductance transients. Samples are cooled in darkness from room temperature to 77 K in a cryostat. Figure 14 is an example of DIGS profiles obtained from conductance transients on MIS structures fabricated with ALD Gadolinium oxide as dielectric.

In section IV.C we review results obtained for several high-k dielectrics grown by atomic layer deposition (ALD) under different processing conditions.

3.3. Flat-Band Transient Technique (FBT)

Several problems must be fixed before the high-k dielectric materials could be extensively used in fabrication. One of them is the instability caused by charge trapping and detrapping inside the dielectric. Fixed and trapped charges cause serious performance degradation by shifting the threshold voltage, limiting transistor mobility and reducing device lifetimes. Threshold voltage shifts are observed under positive bias, negative bias and hot-carrier stressing in high-gate stacks. Charge trapping under positive bias stressing is known to be more severe compared to conventional SiO2-based gate dielectrics [38]. It is believed to happen due to filling of pre-existing bulk traps. Charge trapping causes threshold voltage shifts and drive current degradation over device operation time. It also precludes accurate mobility (inversion charge) measurements due to a distortion of C-V curves. Negative bias temperature instability (NBTI) induced threshold voltage shifts in high-k devices are also observed and are comparable to those observed for silicon-based oxide devices.

In a previous work [39], we showed the existence of flat band voltage transients in ultra-thin high-k dielectrics on silicon. To obtain these transients, we recorded the gate voltage while keeping the capacitance constant at the initial flat band condition (CFB). Therefore, samples were kept under no external stress conditions: zero electric field in the substrate, darkness conditions and no external charge injection. Under these conditions, the only mechanism for defect trapping or detrapping is thermal activation, that is, phonons. We proved that the energy of soft-optical phonons in high k dielectric is obtained with this experimental approach.

The flat-band voltage, VFB, of a MIS capacitance is given by:


When the charge density inside the insulator film,ρox(t) , varied with time, t, or with the distance from the interface, x, the flat band voltage varies. In particular, trapping and detrapping on defects existing inside the dielectric will produce transient variations of the flat-band voltage. According equation (11) these variations are oposite in sign to the charge variation. As it has been suggested elsewhere [40] at flat-band voltage conditions there are not electrons or holes directly injected form the gate or semiconductor, i.e., free charges move by hopping from trap to trap. Moreover, since no optical neither electrical external stimulus are applied, free charges must be originated from trapping or detrapping mechanisms of defects existing inside the dielectric and the energy needed to activate this mechanisms only can be provided as thermal energy, that is, phonons.

The experimental setup of this technique is identical to that used to capacitance-voltage technique. The only difference is that in order to obtain the flat-band voltage transients, a feedback system that varies the applied gate voltage accordingly to keep the flat-band capacitance value was implemented.

The experimental flat band voltage transients become faster when the dielectric thickness diminishes. Time dependences appear to be independent of the temperature. These two facts suggest that there are tunnelling assisted process involved. The amplitude of the transients is thermally activated with energies in the range of soft-optical phonons usually reported for high-k dielectrics. We have proved that the flat-band voltage transients increase or decrease depending on the previous bias history (accumulation or inversion) and the hysteresis sign (clockwise or counter-clockwise) of the capacitance-voltage (C-V) characteristics of MOS structures. In the next section we illustrate all these finger prints.

To illustrate the technique, we have included in Figure 15 some experimental results for the case of a sample of a 20 nm film of hafnium oxide deposited by ALD on silicon. The amplitude of the flat-band voltage transients depends on temperature according an Arrhenius type law:


where Φphis the energy of the soft optical phonons of the dielectric.


4. Some examples

This section includes a selection of different cases to show the applicability of our techniques.

4.1. Effect of interlayer trapping and detrapping on the determination of interface state densities on high-k dielectric stacks

HfO2 is among the most promising high-k dielectrics, but before qualifying, the nature and formation of electrically active defects existing in these emerging materials should be known. In fact, hafnium based high-k dielectris are already in production [41-43]. While not identified, it is most likely the dielectrics used by these companies are some form of nitrided hafnium silicates (HfSiON). HfO2 and HfSiO are susceptible to crystallize during dopant activation annealing. However, even HfSiON is susceptible to trap-related leakage currents, which tend to increase with stress over device lifetime. This drawback increases with the hafnium concentration. It is known that defects in SiO2 are passivated by hydrogen, but this can cause some problems in HfO2 [44]. Moreover, as most of the high-k materials, when HfO2 is deposited in direct contact with Si a silicon oxide (SiOx) interfacial layer (few nanometres thick) is formed [45, 46]. Because of the non-controlled nature of this silicon dioxide layer, its quality is poor and the interfacial state density (Dit) and leakage current increase. Moreover, this barrier layer leads to a reduction of the dielectric constant and, hence, to the effective capacitance of the gate dielectric stack. The use of silicon nitride instead of silicon oxide as barrier layer can improve the effective capacitance of the gate dielectric stack, since silicon nitride has a higher permittivity (≈ 7) than silicon oxide (≈ 3.9). Moreover, SiNx is stable when deposited on Si, preventing the growth of silicon oxides, and the use of nitrides greatly reduces boron diffusion from the heavily doped poly-Si gate electrode to the lightly doped Si channel [3].

Figure 15.

Example of DIGS profile: Atomic Layer Deposited hafnium oxide films.

In a previous work [47] we studied the influences of the silicon nitride blocking-layer thickness on the Interface State densities (Dit) of HfO2/SiNx:H gate-stacks on n-type silicon. The blocking layer consisted of 3 to 7 nm thick silicon nitride films directly grown on the silicon substrates by electron-cyclotron-resonance assisted chemical-vapour-deposition (ECR-CVD). Afterwards, 12 nm thick hafnium oxide films were deposited by high-pressure reactive sputtering (HPS). Interface state densities were determined by deep-level transient spectroscopy (DLTS) and by the high and low frequency capacitance-voltage (HLCV) method. The HLCV measurements provide interface trap densities in the range of 1011 cm-2 eV-1 for all the samples. However, a significant increase of about two orders of magnitude was obtained by DLTS for the thinnest silicon nitride barrier layers. In this work we probe that this increase is an artefact due to the effect of traps located at the internal interface existing between the HfO2 and SiNx:H films. Because charge trapping and discharging are tunnelling assisted, these traps are more easily charged or discharged as lower the distance from this interface to the substrate, that is, as thinner the SiNx:H blocking layer. The trapping/detrapping mechanisms increase the amplitude of the capacitance transient and, in consequence, the DLTS signal, which have contributions not only from the insulator/substrate interface states but also from the HfO2/SiNx:H interlayer traps.

Figure 16.

Interface state density measured by DLTS

To determine the interface trap densities we used DLTS and HLCV techniques in order to contrast the results obtained by the two techniques. HLCV measurements are summarized in table 1. This technique provides similar interface density (Dit) values (2-4 1011 cm-2eV-1) for all the samples, regardless the silicon nitride layer thickness. Therefore, interface quality seems not to depend on the blocking layer thickness, as one could expect for these not ultrathin films. In contrast, DLTS results (Figure 16) can be clearly separated in two groups: one corresponding to the thickest samples which has Dit densities from 9 1010 cm-2eV-1 to 4 1011 cm-2eV-1, in good agreement with HLCV results, and the other group corresponding o the thinnest samples wit Dit values (from 61012 cm-2eV-1 to 21013 cm-2eV-1) much higher than those obtained by HLCV. In order to explain these discrepancies we carried out an exhaustive analysis which leads us to conclude that charging and discharging mechanisms of inner traps existing at the HfO2/SiNx interface affect the DLTS results.

Figure 17 plots the normalized C-V curves measured at room temperature for the as-deposited samples. The stretch-out is similar for all the samples, meaning a similar trap density, contrary to the DLTS results. Vuillame et al. [48] reported variations in the DLTS signal due to slow traps located inside the insulator, but these changes are only observed for very short filling accumulation pulses times under 50 s, much lower than the 15 ms used in our experiments. On the other hand, changes were much smaller than those observed in this work. Moreover, slow traps induce hysteresis at the C-V curves and conductance transients. However, a clockwise hysteresis is observed only in the thickest samples and conductance transients have not been detected in any of the thinnest samples. The only difference between the samples is the HfO2/SiNx:H interface distance from the substrate, so that we focused our attention in the traps existing at the surface between the SiNx:H interface layer and the HfO2 film.

SampleECR-CVDtime (s)Silicon nitrideTickness (nm)RTADit from DLTS× 1011 (cm-2eV-1)Dit from HLCV× 1011 (cm-2eV-1)
Asd_1906,6 ± 0,4As-deposited3 – 53.0
RTA_1600 ºC – 30s2 - 52.2
Asd_2605,9 ± 0,4As-deposited0.8 – 11.3
RTA_2600 ºC – 30s1 - 22.7
Asd_3303,9 ± 0,2As-depositedNot measured4.5
RTA_3600 ºC – 30s100 - 2004.4
Asd_4153,0 ± 0,4As-deposited50 - 1002.0
RTA_4600 ºC - 30s50 - 1001.9

Table 1.

ECR-CVD deposition time, silicon nitride thickness and interface state densities provided by DLTS and HLCV measurements.

Figure 17.

MHz C-V curves measured for the as-deposited samples at room temperature.

To study these discrepancies in depth, we have focused our attention on the sample showing the biggest discrepancies on the Dit values measured by HLCV and DLTS. The one selected was the Asd_4 sample, which has the lowest barrier layer thickness (3 nm). First, we recorded the interface state density profiles obtained by DLTS when varying the bias conditions. Figure 18(a) shows important variations in the Dit profiles when the accumulation filling pulse voltage is varied while keeping constant the reverse voltage. On the contrary, no significant differences are obtained when varying the reverse voltage (Figure 18(b). Therefore, the mechanisms responsible for these variations must occur during the trap-filling pulse but not under reverse (detrapping) bias conditions, when the capacitance transients are recorded.

Figure 18.

DLTS profiles obtained keeping constant the voltage of the reverse-emptying-pulse (a) and the accumulation-filling pulse (b).

In Figure 19 we show the DLTS values obtained for different energies as a function of gate voltage and the electric field at the Silicon Nitride film. The electric field has been evaluated according the expression:


We clearly observed that for all the energies the relationship between Dit and electric field is linear:


The slope of Equation (14) is a function of energy. This dependency is plotted in Figure 20 and we have observed that the experimental points fit very well the following dependency.

Figure 19.

Experimental DLTS signal as a function of accumulation voltage and SiNx electric field for different energies.

Figure 20.

Variation with energy of the electric field barrier lowering parameter, .


In summary, we can state that experimental DLTS profiles obey the following expression:


where Dit* is the as-measured apparent interface state profile. Dit is the true trap interface state density profile that is the obtained at low electric filed values. is a parameter associated to the electric field lowering of the energy barrier between the silicon conduction band and traps located at the inner layer interface. This barrier is lower as higher the energy of the traps at the inner interface layer and this fact is included at the second term of parameter.

The true interface state density, Dit, is plotted at Figure 21 as obtained for the lowest accumulation voltage values. These values do agree with those obtained when using HLCV technique. Moreover, this distribution show a profile consisting on broad gaussian peaks, as is usually reported for silicon nitride films [49-53].

Figure 21.

True interface state density profile as obtained at low electric fields (<1

4.1.1. Band energy model

The energy diagrams of the MIS structures under accumulation and inversion are displayed in Figure 22. To construct them, we have included the published values of the bandgap and the conduction and valence band offsets of hafnium oxide and silicon nitride relative to silicon [54]. We also assume that defects exist at the HfO2/SiNx:H inner layer interface (IL). DLTS measurements consist of applying accumulation pulses to fill the interface states in the upper half of the semiconductor bandgap followed by reverse pulses in which the interface states emit electrons to the conduction band yielding capacitance transients that are conveniently recorded and processed to obtain the Dit distribution. If the SiNx:H film is thin enough, tunnelling between the semiconductor and the inner layer interface (IL) may occur. At accumulation, capturing electrons coming from the semiconductor band by direct tunnelling fills IL states. Then, when the reverse pulse is applied these defects emit the captured electrons to the semiconductor band. The emission process may occur in two different ways: IL states with energies above the silicon conduction band (light grey area) emit electrons by direct tunnelling (A). On the other hand, for energies ranging from the Fermi level to the semiconductor conduction band (dark grey area) tunnelling between the IL states and the interface states (B). These interface states can emit electrons to the conduction band in a similar way as occurs in conventional DLTS (C). Electrons emitted according the (B)+(C) sequence increase the capacitance transient, obtaining an apparent increase in the measured interfacial state densities. Since all these mechanisms are tunnelling assisted, as thinner the silicon nitride films as higher their probability. In our experiment, the SiNx:H layer thickness has been varied from around 3 to 6.6 nm. To roughly estimate the relationship between the tunnelling charging/discharging probabilities for two samples with different silicon nitride thickness (t1 and t2), we can use the following quantum mechanics expression:


where mh is the hole effective mass inside the barrier, ϕv¯is the mean barrier height, t1 and t2 are the barrier thickness and h is the Plank’s constant. For the h-well triangular barrier, ϕv¯= ΔEV/2, where ΔEV is the valence band offset of silicon nitride relative to silicon. Gritsenko et al. [55] reported values of ΔEV ≈ 1.5 eV and mh /m0 =(0.3±0.1). Here m0 is the free electron mass. These values yield a relation of p1/p2 =10-4 for two layers of 6 and 3 nm, respectively, so indicating that the IL trapping/detrapping mechanisms effect is negligible for thicker samples in comparison with the 3 nm-thick blocking layer samples where the very thin silicon nitride layer allows electron tunnelling from IL traps to the channel interface, so increasing the total charge emitted during the DLTS reverse pulses.

Moreover, as higher the electric field In Figure 22(b) higher filling-pulse (higher bias in the accumulation regime). In this case, a larger number IL traps has been filled. When biasing the sample in the inversion regime, a higher number of IL traps can contribute to the capacitance transient by direct tunnelling. This result agrees with results shown in Figure 18(a): the higher the filling pulse the higher the DLTS Dit results.

On the contrary, variations of the inversion bias do not change the total filled traps, and the emitted charge from the IL traps does not change significantly. The results shown in Figure 18(b) confirm this hypothesis: the measured Dit values hardly change when varying the reverse bias.

In samples with thicker SiNx:H layer, IL traps cannot contribute to the DLTS capacitance transients, which take place in a relatively short time. However, the IL traps in these samples do exchange charge with the substrate in longer times, giving rise to the hysteresis phenomena not observed in the two thinnest samples. In fact, we can measure slow states inside the MIS insulator by the conductance transient technique (GTT) [56]. We measured the slow states inside the insulator and we observed only slow states in the two thickest samples: if these slow states were due to traps in the bulk SiNx:H, they would appear in all the samples.

Figure 22.

Energy band diagram of the HfO2/SiNx:H/n-Si MIS structures under accumulation (a) and inversion (b)

4.2. Flat-band voltage transients: Main fingerprints

In this section we summarize the main finger-prints of the flat-band voltage transients. We have obtained VFB transients for many high-k dielectrics (HfO2, hafnium silicate, Al2O3, TiO2 and Gd2O3). In all cases, there is a direct relationship between the C-V curve hysteresis and the transient amplitude. Here we present a selection of our experimental work to show the information that can be extracted from the transients as well as the parameters affecting to their amplitude, shape, and time constant. We have observed that the main parameters affecting the transients are the experimental temperature, the dielectric film thickness, the dielectric material itself and, finally, the bias voltage and the setup time just before the flat band voltage condition is established in the sample.

4.2.1. Temperature and thickness dependencies

Figure 23 shows capacitance-voltage curves obtained at room temperature for as-deposited Al/Gd2O3/HF-etched-Si (a) and Al/Gd2O3/SiO2/Si (b) MIS structures with different Gd2O3 thickness. VFB is negative in all cases indicating the existence of positive charge in the dielectric. In Figure 23(a) we see that VFB moves to less negative values with thickness indicating that the charge centroid is closer to the interface for thicker films. That means that traps are preferentially created in the very first dielectric layers. Moreover, in Figure 23(b) we see that when a SiO2 film is present, VFB shows more negative values and weaker thickness dependence than when Gd2O3 films are directly deposited on HF-etched silicon. That must be due to the existence of non-mobile charge trapped at the interface between the high-k and SiO2 films. VFB transients for different thicknesses (Figure 24(a)) reveal time constants increasing with thickness below 5.7 nm. That indicates the existence of charge displacement mechanisms: the thinner the films the lower the distances to be covered for the mobile charges to reach the gate and/or the insulator-semiconductor interface.

Figure 23.

Normalized C-V curves of Al/Gd2O3/HF-etched-Si (a) and Al/Gd2O3/SiO2/Si (b) with different Gd2O3 thicknesses, measured at room temperature.

To characterize the time dependence of the transients, we have normalized them (Figure 24(b) ) by dividing the experimental values by their value at 600 seconds. It is clear that the time constant is independent of the temperature, indicating that tunnelling mechanisms are involved in the conduction. As for temperature dependency of VFB transients, we recorded transients at several temperatures (Figure 25(a)) and we observed that their magnitude follows an Arrhenius plot (Figure 25(b) ) with activation energy in the range of the soft-optical phonon energies (WPH) usually reported for high-k dielectrics. From our fits for different samples we have obtained that for Gd2O3 these energies are of about 55±10 meV. These values were obtained for both annealed and as-deposited samples and for Gd2O3 film thicknesses from about 2 to 20 nm.

Figure 24.

Flat-band voltage transients at different Gd2O3 thickness, tox, (a) and temperature (b) of Gd2O3-based MIS structures.

From all these observations we concluded that the flat band voltage transients under conditions without external stress are originated by phonon-assisted tunnelling between localized states: Phonons produce the ionization of traps existing in the bandgap of the insulator. Electrons and/or holes generated in this way move by hopping from trap to trap until they reach a defect location and neutralize the charge state of this defect. It is important to point out that the electrons (or holes) do not enter the conduction (or valence) band of the dielectric and the conduction takes place within the band gap.

Figure 25.

Flat-band voltage transients at different temperatures (a) and Arrhenius plot of the transient amplitude at 10 minutes (b) for an Al/Gd2O3/SiO2/Si sample.

4.2.2. Influence of the setup conditions

In this section we show how the VFB transients are different depending on the bias regime of the sample just before the transient were recording. Transients are different depending if the samples are biased in accumulation or in inversion regimes. Setup time under these previous conditions also affect to the transient amplitude. To illustrate these influences we analyze here two cases based in HfO2 films. The first one is an HfO2 film directly grown on n-type silicon, and the second is a HfO2/SiO2 stack deposited on n-type silicon. Figure 26(a) shows the C-V curves at room and low temperature for an Al/HfO2/Si sample with a 250 Å HfO2 layer grown by atomic layer deposition (ALD). We observe that blat band voltage is positive in all curves indicating the existence of negative charge in the dielectric. Moreover, C-V shows hysteresis at both temperatures. Both flat band voltage and hysteresis are bigger for low temperature. The amount of negative charge and hysteresis are higher at low temperature.

To explain that we suggest that there are positive and negative charges inside the dielectric having different activation energies. At low temperatures positively charged traps (PCT) are not ionized, whereas this temperature is high enough to ionize traps yielding negative charge (NCT). When temperature increases positive traps are ionized by emitting electrons that moves by hopping to the gate or to substrate, so partially compensating the total negative charge. Another point is that hysteresis is clockwise at all temperatures, that is, accumulation bias give places to an increase of the total negative charge. When sample is in accumulation, detrapping mechanisms occurs and traps remain ionized. At inversion, PCT trap electrons coming from the gate and NCTs trap holes coming from the inversion layer at the substrate. Since NCTs predominates the whole effect is that negative charge increases during accumulation and decreases at inversion. These arguments are also observed in the flat-band voltage transients (Figures 26(b) and (c) ).

Figure 26.

Normalized C-V curves (a) and Flat-band voltage transients at room temperature (b) and 77 K (c) of an Al/HfO2 /Si sample grown by ALD

We see that transients are decreasing when coming from accumulation and increasing when the sample is previously biased in inversion. At flat-band conditions traps previously charged (PCTs in accumulation and NCTs at inversion) can emit the trapped charge giving place to the corresponding flat-band voltage variation. We see also that these effects are more important as the setup time is higher indicating that trapping and detrapping are not instantaneous because the time needed by free carriers to reach the trap locations. Another important point is that decreasing and increasing transients seem to reach the same final values but after very long times (very much longer than those used in our experimental records).

The second case presented here is a sample in which the dielectric is a stack of an 21 nm HfO2 film grown by High-Pressure Reactive Sputtering (HPRS) and a SiO2 buffer layer (3.4 nm-thick). In this case (Figure 27), C-V curves indicate that at room temperature there is positive charge at the dielectric, that is PCTs predominates over NCTs. Consequently, in accumulation the positive charge increases and decreases in inversion regime, giving place to the counter clock-wise hysteresis cycle observed at room temperature. At 77 K the PCTs are not ionized and the hysteresis cycles are due only to NCTs and, then, a clock-wise hysteresis cycle is obtained. This model is confirmed by the opposite trends shown by the flat-band voltage transients obtained at room and low temperature (Figures 27(b) and (c) ). Low temperature curves are similar to those obtained in the previous case (Figure 26).

4.3. Conduction transient profiles of high-k dielectrics

In this section we review results obtained for several high-k dielectrics grown by atomic layer deposition (ALD) under different processing conditions. The most noticeable results provided by the experimental contour maps are outlined.

4.3.1. Hafnium-based dielectrics

HfO2 is a promising gate dielectric material due to its high dielectric constant and excellent thermal stability. Figure 28 shows three-dimensional DIGS plots for HfO2 atomic layer deposited on n-Si and over p-Si using chloride as metal (Hf) precursor. DIGS states are located at energies close to the majority band edge of the semiconductor. This can be explained in terms of the very nature of the conductance transient technique: majority band edges have the maximum majority carrier concentration, so states located at energies close to this position have the maximum probability to capture majority carriers. On the other hand, no conductance transients were observed for ultrathin samples (less than 40 Å). Kerber et al. [57] proposed the existence of a defect band in the HfO2 layer. We find spatially distributed defect bands for films on both types of silicon substrates. These defect bands could be due to oxygen vacancies: when the capacitor structure is terminated by the oxide-Si interface, the electric field existing in the dielectric film makes oxygen vacancies (positively charged) to move towards locations farther away from the interface. That occurs in samples deposited on n-type silicon f the difference in semiconductor band bending at the interface [58]. Forming gas annealings (FGA) are usually employed in integrated circuit technology for passivation of defects (dangling bonds) on Si surface. Figure 29(a) shows DIGS density corresponding to post-metallization annealed (400°C, 30 min) Al/HfO2/p-Si sample. Lower DIGS density is achieved, but Dit density is increased in this sample [59], indicating that thermal treatment partially moves the insulator defects to the interface. Ioannou-Sougleridis et al. [60] attributed instabilities observed in as-grown Y2O3 samples to slow traps, which were mostly removed after FGA. The same behaviour can affect our results.

Figure 27.

Normalized C-V curves and Flat-band voltage transients at room temperature (b) and 77 K (c) for an Al/HfO2/SiO2/n-Si sample grown by HPRS

Figure 28.

Three-dimensional DIGS plots for unannealed HfO2 atomic layer deposited on n-Si (a) and over p-Si (b)

Transition metal silicates, such as hafnium silicate, have also been the object of a considerable number of studies to replace SiO2 because of their higher crystallization temperature. Figure 29(b) shows DIGS states obtained from as-deposited Al/HfSixOy/n-Si structures grown using HfI4 and Si(OC2H5)4 as precursors. In this case contour lines have a more anisotropic shape than those for HfO2 indicating less homogeneous distribution of DIGS defects. In fact, we can see two different local ordering at zones A and B. The boundary between these zones approximately follows the lineECscET=588.2215.42xC. Contour lines are parallel in zone A and perpendicular to this boundary, indicating some regularity in the defect distribution. On the other hand, DIGS density rapidly decreases to lower values in zone B, where uniformity is higher. When this sample is submitted to a post-deposition annealing at temperatures ranging from 700 to 800°C, this two-region structure does not change [61].

Figure 29.

Contour plots of DIGS density obtained to 400 °C-30 min. annealed Al/HfO2/p-Si (oxide grown at 450 °C) and Al/HfSixOy/n-Si (silicate grown at 400 °C)

4.4. Al2O3

The importance of Al2O3 as an insulating dielectrics is due to its large band gap (8.8 eV), excellent stability when deposited over silicon and its amorphousness (Al2O3 is a good glass former). We have studied Al/Al2O3/n-Si structures grown by atomic layer deposition at temperatures ranging from 300 °C to 800 °C. AlCl3 and H2O were used as precursors. DIGS states densities are listed in Table 2. The measured value is similar in all samples, but non measurable at 500 °C. It is possible that Al2O3 grown at this temperature is free of residual defects and moreover, the amorphousness, high purity and structural homogeneity achieved cause low defect densities, making the conductivity signal difficult to measure. In Figure 30 one can see the contour plot corresponding to the sample grown at 300 °C. The shape is similar to HfO2 sample deposited on n-Si, but in the case of Al2O3 the maximum density appears near the interface which might cause faster defect detrapping. The highest quality sample in terms of DIGS states is that grown at 500 °C, but if we consider also interface states densities obtained for these samples [62] the best sample would be that grown at 300 °C. It is important to consider both Dit and DIGS densities before concluding the quality of the samples.

Growth temperatureMaximum DIGS (( 1010 cm-2 eV-1)

Table 2.

DIGS densities obtained to Al/Al2O3/n-Si structures grown at different temperatures.

Figure 30.

Contour plot of DIGS density obtained to Al/Al2O3/n-Si (oxide grown at 300 °C).)

4.5. TiO2

TiO2 is being extensively studied for memory and logic applications, because of its high dielectric constant, ranging from 40 to 86. We have studied TiO2 atomic layer deposited on etched n-silicon and high-pressure reactive sputtered over SiO2–covered Si. DIGS state densities and other growth parameters are listed in Table 3. All ALD samples have been annealed at 750 °C, so the only differences are growth temperature and chemical precursors. H2O seems to be more adequate as a precursor than H2O2 for the two grown temperatures. On the other hand, when titanium precursor is Ti(OC2H5), carbon remains uniformly distributed in the film bulk [63]. In contrast, when TiCl4 is used, chlorine remains in the film and accumulates near the interface [64]. Because of that, higher Dit and lower DIGS values are seen in the films grown with TiCl4. To compare with the previous results, we grew TiO2/SiO2 dielectric thin films stacks on n-type silicon substrates. A 7 nm layer of SiO2 was deposited by an Electron Cyclotron Resonance (ECR) oxygen plasma oxidation. Afterwards, 77.5 nm TiO2 films were grown in an HPRS system at a pressure of 1 mbar during 3 hours and at a temperature of 200°C. Finally, some samples were in situ annealed in oxygen atmosphere at temperatures ranging from 600 to 900°C. Sputtered films exhibit lower DIGS densities, but the large band gap buffer layer (SiO2) interposed between substrate and TiO2 inhibits trap displacements from the interface to the dielectric bulk.

Figure 31 shows two contour maps corresponding to ALD sample grown from TiO2 (Figure 31(a)) and to sputtered (600 °C annealed) sample (Figure 31(b)). Defects are located closer to the interface in ALD films because the wider band gap SiO2 interface layer is not present in this case.

4.6. Other materials: Mixtures

Mixtures, ternary or quaternary oxides are also studied in order to find replacement for SiO2. Aluminum is a good glass former, so it can induce other dielectric layers to be amorphous, but at the expense of reducing the dielectric film permittivity. To avoid this fact, niobium is also mixed with dielectrics, due to its high permittivity. We have studied Hf-Al-O, Zr-Al-O, Hf-Al-Nb-O and Zr-Al-Nb-O mixtures.Ta2O5 layers have also been compared to Ta-Nb-O mixture. All these materials can be grown by ALD on p-silicon, using chlorides as precursors of hafnium and zirconium, Al(CH3)3 as aluminium precursor, and ethoxides for niobium and tantalum. Table 4 shows DIGS densities of these dielectric layers. In all cases niobium possibly acts as a barrier which inhibits trap displacement from the interface: in fact interface state densities are larger when Nb is incorporated and at the same time, DIGS state densities are reduced [65, 66]. Hf-Al-O behaves like Zr-Al-O due to the similarity between hafnium and zirconium. DIGS density for Ta2O5 has an intermediate value (~ 1011 cm-2 eV-1), as seen in the contour plot in Figure 32. By comparing this plot with Al/HfO2/p-Si plot, we realize that maximum DIGS reach deeper locations and lower energies for Ta2O5. This can be explained in terms of the larger valence band offset for HfO2 or ZrO2 with respect to Ta2O5.

TiO2 atomic layer deposited over n-Si TiO2 sputtered over SiO2
PrecursorsTG (ºC)Maximum DIGS
(1011 cm-2 eV-1)
 AnnealingMaximum DIGS
(1011 cm-2 eV-1)
Ti(OC2H5), H2O2750,1 NoNot detected
Ti(OC2H5), H2O22253,5 600 ºC0,5
Ti(OC2H5), H2O22751 700 ºC2,6
TiCl4, H2O2252 800 ºC1,2
 900ºCNot detected

Table 3.

DIGS densities obtained to TiO2 deposited over n-silicon and over SiO2

Figure 31.

Contour plots of DIGS density obtained to ALD TiO2 sample grown at 225 °C from TiCl4 on etched silicon (a) and TiO2 sputtered on SiO2–covered silicon (600 °C annealed) (b).

 Maximum DIGS (x109 cm-2 eV-1)
Zr-Nb-Al-ONot detected
Ta-Nb-ONot detected

Table 4.

DIGS densities obtained for different high-k dielectric mixtures

Figure 32.

Contour plot of DIGS density obtained to Al/Ta2O5/p-Si (oxide grown at 300 °C).


5. Conclusions and future trends

In this chapter we review several experimental techniques which allow detecting, measuring and identifying traps and defects in metal insulator interface, and at the bulk of the dielectric. The correlation between conduction mechanisms, defect location and preferential energy values provides very relevant information about the very nature of defects and, eventually, how these defects could be removed or diminished. Our techniques provide high resolution in two dimensions: defect energy (E) and depth relative to the interface (z). In the future, we want to combine these techniques with scanning probe microscopy in order to obtain high resolution in lateral dimensions (x,y) as well.


The study here presented has been supported by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness through Grants TEC2008-06698-C02 and TEC2011-27292-C02.


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Written By

Salvador Dueñas, Helena Castán, Héctor García and Luis Bailón

Submitted: 15 November 2011 Published: 03 October 2012