A novel low-temperature growth method of silicon structures and application in flash memory.
Flash memories are solid-state non-volatile memories. They play a vital role especially in information storage in a wide range of consumer electronic devices and applications including smart phones, digital cameras, laptop computers, and satellite navigators. The demand for high density flash has surged as a result of the proliferation of these consumer electronic portable gadgets and the more features they offer – wireless internet, touch screen, video capabilities. The increase in the density of flash memory devices over the years has come as a result of continuous memory cell-size reduction. This size scaling is however approaching a dead end and it is widely agreed that further reduction beyond the 20 nm technological node is going to be very difficult, as it would result to challenges such as cross-talk or cell-to-cell interference, a high statistical variation in the number of stored electrons in the floating gate and high leakage currents due to thinner tunnel oxides. Because of these challenges a wide range of solutions in form of materials and device architectures are being investigated. Among them is three-dimensional (3-D) flash, which is widely acclaimed as the ideal solution, as they promise the integration of long-time retention and ultra-high density cells without compromising device reliability. However, current high temperature (>600 °C) growth techniques of the Polycrystalline silicon floating gate material are incompatible with 3-D flash memory; with vertically stacked memory layers, which require process temperatures to be ≤ 400 °C. There already exist some low temperature techniques for producing polycrystalline silicon such as laser annealing, solid-phase crystallization of amorphous silicon and metal-induced crystallization. However, these have some short-comings which make them not suitable for use in 3-D flash memory, e.g. the high furnace annealing temperatures (700 °C) in solid-phase crystallization of amorphous silicon which could potentially damage underlying memory layers in 3-D flash, and the metal contaminants in metal-induced crystallization which is a potential source of high leakage currents. There is therefore a need for alternative low temperature techniques that would be most suitable for flash memory purposes. With reference to the above, the main objective of this research was to develop a novel low temperature method for growing silicon structures at ≤ 400 °C. This thesis thus describes the development of a low-temperature method for polycrystalline silicon growth and the application of the technique in a capacitor-like flash memory device. It has been demonstrated that silicon structures with polycrystalline silicon-like properties can be grown at ≤ 400 °C in a 13.56 MHz radio frequency (RF) plasma-enhanced chemical vapour deposition (PECVD) reactor with the aid of Nickel Formate Dihydrate (NFD). It is also shown that the NFD coated on the substrates, thermally decomposes in-situ during the deposition process forming Ni particles that act as nucleation and growth sites of polycrystalline silicon. Silicon films grown by this technique and without annealing, have exhibited optical band gaps of ~ 1.2 eV compared to 1.78 eV for films grown under identical conditions but without the substrate being coated. These values were determined from UV-Vis spectroscopy and Tauc plots. These optical band gaps correspond to polycrystalline silicon and amorphous silicon respectively, meaning that the films grown on NFD-coated substrates are polycrystalline silicon while those grown on uncoated substrates remain amorphous. Moreover, this novel technique has been used to fabricate a capacitor-like flash memory that has exhibited hysteresis width corresponding to charge storage density in the order of 1012 cm-2 with a retention time well above 20 days for a device with silicon films grown at 300 °C. Films grown on uncoated films have not exhibit any significant hysteresis, and thus no flash memory-like behaviour. Given that all process temperatures throughout the fabrication of the devices are less than 400 °C and that no annealing of any sort was done on the material and devices, this growth method is thermal budget efficient and meets the crucial process temperature requirements of 3-D flash memory. Furthermore, the technique is glass compatible, which could prove a major step towards the acquisition of flash memory-integrated systems on glass, as well as other applications requiring low temperature polycrystalline silicon.
- PhD 
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