Nanometer-scale multilayer materials exhibit a wealth of interesting structural and mechanical property behaviors. Physical-vapor-deposition technology allows almost unlimited freedom to choose among elements, alloys, and Compounds as layering constituents and to design and produce materials with compositional and structural periodicities approaching the atomic Scale. These materials have tremendous interface area density, approaching 106 mm/mm3, so that a Square centimeter area of a one-micron-thick multilayer film with a bilayer period of 2 nm has an interface area of roughly 1,000 cm2. Hence interfacial effects can dominate multilayer structure and properties leading to unusually large strains and frequently stabilization of metastable structures. The atomic-scale layering of different materials also leads to very high hardnesses and good wear resistance. These materials are a test-bed for examination of the fundamental aspects of phase stability and for exploring mechanical strengthening mechanisms. They are also becoming increasingly interesting for applications such as hard coatings, x-ray optical elements, in microelectromechanical Systems (MEMS), and in magnetic recording media and heads.
In this article, we review some of the interesting structures and mechanical properties that have been observed in nanometer-scale artificial multilayer structures.
Superlattice thin films are readily deposited by vapor-phase techniques such as sputter deposition, evaporation, and chemical vapor deposition, as well as by electrochemical deposition. Superlattice deposition Systems are similar to conventional film deposition Systems, except for the provision to modulate the fluxes and thereby produce alternating super-lattice layers.