Concurrent energetic particle bombardment during film deposition can strongly modify the structural and chemical properties of the resulting thin film. The interest in this technique, ion-assisted deposition, comes about because it can be used to produce thin films with properties not achievable by conventional deposition. Bombardment by low energy ions occurs during almost all plasma-based thin film deposition techniques. Bombardment of a growing film, particularly by accelerated ions, can also be combined with non-plasma-based deposition techniques, such as evaporation, to simulate some of the effects observed with sputtering. The bombarding particle flux is usually controllable so that the arrival rate, energy, and species can be independently varied from the depositing flux. Thus, a basic aspect of ion-beam-based deposition techniques is the “control” often absent in plasma-based techniques. In plasmas, the voltage, current, and pressure are all interdependent. The energetic bombardment at the substrate-film interface depends on the various properties of the plasma, as does the deposition rate. It is often difficult, or even impossible, to decouple these processes. With ion-beam-based deposition techniques, the ion bombardment is essentially independent of the deposition process, and both can be more easily controlled.
The incident energetic particle contributes some of its energy or momentum to irreversibly change the dynamics of the film surface. The incident particle may also be incorporated into the growing film, changing the film's chemical nature. The changes induced by particle bombardment during deposition are often not characteristic of equilibrium thermodynamics because the incident particle's energy is often many times the local adsorption or binding energy.