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Thin films nano-crystalline zirconia of ~ 300 nm thick were deposited on Si substrate, and the samples were irradiated with 2 MeV Au+ ions at temperatures of 160 and 400 K, up to fluences of 35 displacements per atom. The films were then studied using glancing incidence x-ray diffraction, Rutherford backscattering, secondary ion mass spectroscopy and transmission electron microscopy. During the irradiation, cavities were observed to form at the zirconia/silicon interface. The morphology of the cavities was found to be related to the damage state of the underlying Si substrate. Elongated cavities were observed when the substrate is heavily damaged but not amorphized; however, when the substrate is rendered amorphous, the cavities become spherical. As the ion dose increases, the cavities then act as efficient gettering sites for the Au. The concentration of oxygen within the cavities determines the order in which the cavities getter. Following complete filling of the cavities, the interface acts as the secondary gettering site for the Au. The Au precipitates are determined to be elemental in nature due to the high binding free energy for the formation of Au-silicides.
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