The structure and stability of thin epitaxial films have been investigated using molecular dynamics computer simulations. One issue of interest is the stability of a smooth film relative to 3-dimensional clusters. The simulation results show that the uniform film is never the lowest energy state for a system with finite misfit. However, the uniform film, produced in a layer-by-layer growth mode, can persist in a metastable state at substantial misfits, e.g. 10% at 1/2 the melting point. This is a result of the large nucleation barrier to the formation of clusters.
The second issue is the quality of the interface between the film and the substrate. At equilibrium, the critical thickness for the introduction of misfit dislocations is larger for films on the diamond cubic (100) substrate than on the (111), and differs from predictions based on continuum mechanics. We find that coherent films remain in metastable equilibrium far beyond the critical misfit calculated for full equilibrium, because a large free energy barrier inhibits the introduction of misfit dislocations.