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J Phys Chem B. 2005 Jun 2;109(21):10871-9.

Etching behavior of silicon nanowires with HF and NH4F and surface characterization by attenuated total reflection Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy: similarities and differences between one-dimensional and two-dimensional silicon surfaces.

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Center of Super-Diamond and Advanced Films, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR, China.


A systematic study of the etching behavior of one-dimensional (1-D) Si nanowires (SiNWs) in various HF and NH4F etching solutions is reported. The concentration and pH dependences of the etching time (which is inverse to the "stability") of the SiNWs in these solutions were investigated. A V-shaped bimodal etching curve was observed for HF solutions with concentrations of 0.5-40%. Specifically, SiNWs exhibit high stability in both low (0.5%) and high (40%) concentrations of HF solution, with the lowest stability (i.e., fastest etching rate) occurring at 2% (1 M) HF solution. With NH4F, the time needed to totally etch away the SiNWs sample decreases with increasing concentration (from 1-40%). The opposite is true when the pH of the NH4F solution was maintained at 14. These surprising results were rationalized in terms of "passivation" of the SiNW surfaces by HF or related molecules via hydrogen bonding for Si-H-terminated surfaces in HF solutions (with low pH values) and by NH4(+) ions via ionic bonding for Si-O(-)-terminated surfaces in NH4F solutions (with high pH values), respectively. Furthermore, it was found that SiNWs are stable only in relatively narrow pH ranges in these solutions. When SiNWs are etched with HF, the stability range is pH = 1-2 where the surface moieties are Si-H(x) species (x = 1-3). When SiNWs are etched with NH4F, the stability range is pH = 12-14 where the surface moieties are mainly Si-(O-)x species (x = 1-3). These rationales were confirmed by attenuated total reflection Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy measurements, which showed that, while etching SiNWs with HF gave rise to Si-H(x) surface species, no Si-H(x) species were observed when SiNWs were etched with NH4F. The latter finding is at odds with the corresponding results reported for the two-dimensional (2-D) Si wafers where etching with either HF or NH4F produces Si-H(x) species on the surface. This difference suggests either that the etching mechanisms for NH4F versus HF are different for SiNWs or, more likely, that the Si-H(x) surface species produced in NH4F solutions are so unstable that they are hydrolyzed readily at pH > 4. The similarities and differences of the etching behaviors and the resulting surface speciations between the 1-D SiNWs and the 2-D Si wafers suggest that the nanoscale structures as well as the low dimensionality of SiNWs may have contributed to the rapid hydrolysis of the surface Si-H(x) species in NH4F solutions, especially at high pH values.

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