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Wet Surfacing Technologies

Forming an interfacial oxide layer for high-k gate dielectrics using a single-wafer wet tool

Yongqiang Lu, John J. Rosato, Evanson Baiya, and M. Rao Yalamanchili, SCP Global Technologies

Transistor gate stacks using high-kfilms are being introduced into production to address device-scaling requirements.1 The state of the silicon surface before the deposition of high-k materials such as HfO2 and HfSiO is extremely critical to the performance of these gate dielectrics.2 Therefore, the formation of a stable and consistent Si/high-k interfacial layer is essential for ensuring device properties such as carrier mobility. This layer is also necessary to achieve a consistent and linear high-k dielectric deposition rate.1–3 Silicon nitride, silicon oxynitride, and thermally and chemically grown silicon oxide interfacial layers have been investigated by many research groups. Of all the films studied, silicon oxide is the most promising candidate because of its long history in the industry.

Two methods have been proposed to form interfacial silicon oxide layers on silicon surfaces: thermal oxidation and wet chemical growth using ozonated DI water (DIWO3). The main advantage of thermal oxidation is its consistent stoichiometry. The drawback is that the extra thermal process step adds to the thermal budget and causes dopant diffusion. In contrast, wet chemical oxidation does not require additional process steps, since chemical oxide growth can be performed as part of the pre-deposition surface-preparation sequence in a single-wafer wet process tool.

For these reasons, the use of chemical methods to grow oxide interfacial layers has been a very active research topic.1–3 Although these investigations have provided insights into the impact of the interfacial layer on the performance of the gate stack, they have not yet led to a viable production process.

This article discusses the results of a chemical process for growing an oxide interfacial layer using ozonated DI water. Based on tests performed by SCP Global Technologies (Boise, ID) at customer sites, the article investigates the role of oxide thickness and nonuniformity as a function of the dissolved-ozone concentration and contact time. It also demonstrates that the use of a controlled etchback step on an as-grown oxide surface achieves a precise film thickness.

Experimental Setup

All the experiments highlighted here were performed on an Emersion single-wafer process tool with a 200-mm chamber from SCP Global Technologies. A Liquozon 100 ozonated-water delivery system from MKS Instruments (Wilmington, MA) was used to provide the required DIWO3 flow.

For the oxide-growth tests, p-type bare silicon wafers were first processed in 100:1 hydrofluoric acid at 22°C for 30 seconds to strip the native oxide layer. Then ozonated DI water was introduced into the process chamber to chemically grow a thin oxide layer. In all tests, the ozonated DI-water flow rate was 20 L/min. The concentration of dissolved ozone was measured in the ozonated-water delivery system using an ultraviolet-based dissolved-ozone monitor. After the introduction of DIWO3, a 5-second rinse step was performed followed by a drying step using SCP Global's Enhanced Marangoni drying process, which has been detailed elsewhere.4

For the controlled etchback tests, DIWO3 with an ozone concentration of 40 ppm was introduced into the tool chamber to grow the thickest possible oxide layer on the wafer surface. The wafers were then etched using 100:1, or in some cases 200:1, hydrofluoric acid at 22°C to remove a few angstroms of the oxide film. Film thickness was measured with a NanoSpec 9300 thin-film metrology tool from Nanometrics (Milpitas, CA) using nine-point scanning. The same tool was used to calculate film nonuniformity based on the raw data and the following formula:

where range = maximum film thickness – minimum film thickness.

Device wafers were processed using the same process steps described above. The oxide-growth and etchback steps were performed in one sequence, after which the high-k dielectric film was deposited within a one-hour time period.

Results and Discussion

Oxide-Growth Tests Using DIWO3. The thickness and nonuniformity of the as-grown oxide layer formed using the DIWO3 method were investigated as a function of DIWO3 processing time and ozone concentration in DI water. The results of these tests are presented in Figures 1 and 2. It can be seen in Figure 1 that the oxide thickness increased rapidly at the onset of processing but saturated after 30 seconds for all concentrations, achieving a thickness of approximately 8 Å. Even long process times with a high dissolved-ozone concentration of 40 ppm did not produce a measurable increase in film thickness, indicating that the thickness saturated at approximately 8.5 Å. That saturated film thickness agrees with the reported values from other researchers.3

Figure 1: As-grown oxide film thickness as a function of DIWO3 processing time at various dissolved-ozone concentrations. The data show that thickness saturation occurs at ~30 seconds, regardless of concentration.

Figure 2 illustrates the nonuniformity of as-grown oxide films as a function of DIWO3 processing time at various dissolved-ozone concentrations. For all ozone concentrations, a film nonuniformity of <1% could be achieved only after the film reached its saturation thickness. For film thicknesses below saturation (<6 Å), worse film uniformities of 10–20% were achieved. To explain this phenomenon, investigators speculate that oxide growth begins at highly active areas on the wafer surface. In other words, it is not accomplished atom layer by atom layer.5 Before the film reaches its saturation thickness, islands or patches of thin oxide film are present on the wafer surface. As the islands grow, the oxide film gradually covers the surface, at which time the diffusion of oxidizing species into the silicon surface slows down and eventually stops.

Figure 2: Oxide film nonuniformity as a function of DIWO3 processing time at various dissolved-ozone concentrations for as-grown oxide films. While process times of >30 seconds result in saturated films and improved nonuniformity, these thicker oxide films reduce gate-stack capacitance and thereby degrade channel mobility.

Controlled Etchback of Grown Oxide Films. It is well known that a nonuniform interfacial layer results in high-k film-deposition problems. However, a thinner silicon oxide layer is always desirable for achieving high equivalent oxide thickness in high-k gate stacks.3,6 One way to solve this dilemma and create high-performance high-k dielectrics is to grow the oxide layer to the saturation thickness to produce the densest, most uniform layer and then etch the film back to the desired thickness value for high gate-stack capacitance.

The single-wafer immersion tool used to perform the tests highlighted in this article provides excellent oxide etch characteristics because of its fluid-distribution manifold design and its ability to start and stop the etch process in less than 1 second.7 In addition, to meet accurate etch targets, the tool uses an etch control algorithm that enables it to achieve the precision etchback of saturated oxide films with a nonuniformity value of <1%.7 With these features, the tool can form thin and uniform interfacial oxide layers for high-k applications.

Figure 3: Within-wafer range values for oxide films after etchback showing a sub-angstrom-level range across the wafer. These values correspond to nonuniformity values of 1–5% for the thickness range of 6 to 3 Å, respectively.

Results from controlled etchback tests on films grown using the DIWO3 method are presented in Figure 3, which shows the within-wafer film thickness range versus final oxide thickness after etchback. The thickness range values for all etchback films are 0.2 to 0.4 Å, which is close to the metrology tool's measurement error. Hence, the uniformity of etchback films is significantly better than that of as-grown films. For example, a 6-Å etchback film has a nonuniformity of 1.5%, whereas a 6-Å as-grown film has a nonuniformity of 10%. The etchback data presented in Figure 4 demonstrate that the accuracy of the target film thickness after etchback, as determined by the etch control algorithm, is 0.4 Å.

Figure 4: Target etch amount versus actual etch amount obtained using the etch control algorithm for as-grown films with etchback. The results show that the maximum error is <0.4 Å over the desired range of 3–6 Å.

Device Characterization. Following the development of the DIWO3 process, NMOS and PMOS transistors were fabricated with a variety of interfacial layers before high-k deposition. Channel mobility data from these transistors, which covered a wide range of channel lengths, are presented in Figure 5. The transistors formed using the DIWO3 oxide-growth/etchback process demonstrated better channel mobility than transistors with interfacial layers that were formed using a thermal approach, indicating that single-wafer wet immersion processing is a viable method for forming thin, uniform interfacial layers.

Figure 5: Channel mobility data for 80-nm transistors using high-k gate stacks with various interfacial layers before high-k film deposition. The data results show that the DIWO3 oxide/etchback interface is comparable to or better than traditional thermal barrier layers.


This article has demonstrated that uniform ultrathin interfacial layers for high-k dielectric applications can be formed using a DIWO3 oxide-growth process followed by precision etchback of the oxide film. The uniform and controlled etching capabilities of the single-wafer wet immersion process discussed here were used to achieve the best reported uniformity values for ultrathin oxide interfacial layers. High-k gate stacks on a variety of transistor devices built with the DIWO3 interfacial oxide layer showed better channel mobility than gate stacks manufactured using other processes and materials.


1. The International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors, Front End Processes (San Jose: Semiconductor Industry Association, 2004); available from Internet:

2. B Onsia et al., "On the Application of Thin Ozone Based Wet Chemical Oxide as an Interface for ALD High-k Deposition" (paper presented at the 2004 UCPSS conference, Brussels, September 19–22, 2004).

3. J Butterbaugh et al., "Uniform Ultrathin Oxide Growth for High-k Preclean" (paper presented at the 2004 UCPSS conference, Brussels, September 19–22, 2004).

4. J Rosato et al., "Single-Wafer Wet Immersion Processing to Address Sub-65 nm Surface Preparation Challenges," Semiconductor Manufacturing 5, no. 5 (2004): 70–78.

5. M Hirose et al., "Initial Oxidation of Chemically Cleaned Silicon Surfaces," Solid State Technology 34, no. 12 (1991): 43–48.

6. M Frank et al., "High-k Gate Dielectrics on Silicon and Ge: Impact of Surface Preparation" (paper presented at the 2004 UCPSS conference, Brussels, September 19–22, 2004).

7. Y Lu et al., "Predictive-Based Model Control for Critical Oxide Etches for Sub-100 nm Processes in a Single Wafer Wet Processing System," in Proceedings of the ECS Fall Meeting (Pennington, NJ: Electrochemical Society, 2003), 49–57.

Yongqiang Lu, PhD, is a senior process development engineer in the R&D department at SCP Global Technologies (Boise, ID). Before joining the company, he worked at Lucent Technologies and MEMC. The author of more than 20 publications, he received a PhD in metallurgical engineering from the University of Utah (Salt Lake City) in 1998. (Lu can be reached at 208/685-3277 or

John J. Rosato, PhD, is a senior process development engineer and executive member of the technical staff at SCP Global Technologies. With more than 20 years of experience in the semiconductor industry, he has contributed more than 50 publications to peer-reviewed journals and proceedings. He received a BS in 1978 in chemical engineering from Tufts University (Medford, MA), after which he received an MS in 1985 and a PhD in 1987 in electrical engineering from the University of Connecticut in Storrs. (Rosato can be reached at 208/685-3236 or

Evanson Baiya is a process development engineer at SCP Global Technologies. His research focuses on the effect of wafer cleans on semiconductor device performance. (Baiya can be reached at 208/685-4066 or

M. Rao Yalamanchili, PhD, is director of the process R&D group at SCP Global Technologies. He has authored more than 50 publications in peer-reviewed journals and proceedings in the areas of particle interactions and surface contamination. He received a PhD in metallurgical engineering from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. (Yalamanchili can be reached at 208/685-4053 or

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