Dielectric breakdown of ultrathin aluminum oxide films induced by scanning tunneling microscopy

Magtoto, N. P.; Magtoto, N.P.; Niu, C.; Ekstrom, B. M.; Ekstrom, B.M.; Addepalli, S.; Kelber, J. A.; Kelber, J.A.
October 2000
Applied Physics Letters;10/2/2000, Vol. 77 Issue 14
Academic Journal
Dielectric breakdown of 7-Å-thick Al[sub 2]O[sub 3] (111) films grown on Ni[sub 3]Al(111) under ultrahigh vacuum conditions is induced by increasing the bias voltage on the scanning tunneling microscopy tip under constant current feedback. Breakdown is marked by the precipitous retreat of the tip from the surface, and the formation of an elevated feature in the scanning tunneling microscopy image, typically greater than 5 nm high and ∼100 nm in diameter. Constant height measurements performed at tip/sample distances of 1 nm or less yield no tip/substrate physical interaction, indicating that such features do not result from mass transport. Consistent with this, current/voltage measurements within the affected regions indicate linear behavior, in contrast to a band gap of 1.5 eV observed at unaffected regions of the oxide surface. A threshold electric field value of 11±1 MV cm[sup -1] is required to induce breakdown, in good agreement with extrapolated values from capacitance measurements on thicker oxides. © 2000 American Institute of Physics.


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