Vapor-phase processes such as chemical vapor deposition (CVD) and reactive ion etching are the primary methods for the production-scale synthesis and processing of many high-quality thin-film materials. For example, these processes are widely used in the microelectronics industry for synthesis and lithography of the various semiconducting, insulating, and conducting layers in devices. Understanding the means of controlling the microstructure and composition of these materials is of great technological interest. However a difficulty often encountered in developing vapor-phase processes is an undesirable dependence on trial-and-error methods for optimizing the many process parameters. These parameters include gas composition, flow rate, pressure, and substrate temperature, all of which are typically changing with time. This reliance on empirical methods can be attributed to the tremendous chemical and physical complexity of vapor-phase processes and the lack of appropriate in situ measurement techniques for the vapor-phase environment.
We have initiated a program to apply synchrotron x-ray analysis techniques as real-time probes of film and surface structure during vapor-phase processing. X-rays have a combination of properties which makes them particularly well-suited for these studies. Unlike electrons, x-rays have a sufficiently low absorption to penetrate vapor-phase processing environments and chamber walls. Unlike visible light, x-rays have wavelengths and energies suitable for study of atomic-scale structure and chemistry. A growing number of in situ synchrotron x-ray investigations of film growth and processing demonstrate the power of these techniques.