The main aim of the scientific activity of the research team is the research and development of new nanostructured thin-film materials and of new plasma sources for their preparation and for surface modification of the materials. These materials with exceptionally high application potential and the plasma sources are of essential significance for some exceptionally important branches of industry (flexible electronics, high-temperature electronics and optoelectronics, telecommunication systems, and aerospace, automotive and optical industry), in which they contribute to enhancement of useful properties of products, to the advancement of new technologies, development of new energy sources, reduced energy demands of the equipment, and are also important for environmental technologies and bio or medical applications. To produce a new generation of these materials, the research team solves essential problems in the area of discharge plasma physics, plasma chemistry, thin-film physics, and solid-state physics. The research team uses current or brand new plasma technologies that allow for production of materials with unique physical and functional properties and that are at the same time exceptionally environmentally friendly. The group has experts on preparation of new thin-film materials especially using the method of reactive magnetron sputtering, experts on characterization of structure and properties of the films produced and on their computer simulations, and experts on diagnostics of the non-equilibrium discharge plasma and its computer modeling. These experts take part in research projects that fall into two key areas:
A. New nanostructured thin-film materials
The main aim is the research and development of oxide- and oxynitride-based thin-film materials with unique physical and functional properties. The attention is focused on fundamental aspects of high-rate magnetron deposition of densified stoichiometric oxides for potential applications in microelectronics (high dielectric constant and low leakage current) and optical applications (high index of refraction, controlled electrical conductivity, the thermochromic effect and low extinction coefficient). In case of brand new oxynitride-based materials, the focus is on preparation and characterization of the properties of these materials with continuously tuned elemental composition and structure for potential use as photoactive, electrochromic or biocompatible coatings. Combination of oxide or oxynitride films with precious metals or their nanoclusters is important also in the area of conductometric gas sensors or water splitting under visible light. Therefore attention is also focused on the study of these films from the point of view of their microstructure stabilization and influence of precious metals on the electrical resistance, reactivity and photoactivity.
Another aim in this area is also research into multi-component, multi-layer or graded coatings based on multi-element nitrides, borides, carbides, oxides or metal alloys with controlled architecture. The emphasis is placed on the explanation of the physical basis for the processes leading to the preparation of these films with optimized nanostructure, properties and architecture. Attention is given to complex interactions at grain boundaries of individual phases or at individual layer interfaces. The aim is to prepare multifunctional films with a unique combination of several properties (high hardness, high oxidation resistance and thermal stability, high resistance to cracking, low stress, low wear rate, high optical transparency, high or low electrical and thermal conductivity or anisotropic thermal conductivity, antibacterial activity, etc.).
B. New plasma sources for film deposition and surface modification
The main aim is especially the design, optimization, and clarification of fundamental aspects of the operation of new magnetron systems and methods of various types that are being designed or constructed in the NTIS center laboratories. Examples of the new plasma sources and methods are:
- a new method to control high-power pulsed magnetron sputtering for the deposition of stoichiometric oxide films and oxynitride-based films with continuously tuned elemental composition,
- a new type of magnetron for a fast film deposition based on simultaneous sputtering, sublimation and evaporation of the target cathode,
- a new two-functional magnetron for film deposition and improved cleaning of the substrate surface before the actual deposition.