My research interests are focused on the synthesis and characterization of ultra-thin films and nanolaminates for various applications in semiconductor processing, display technology, gas sensors, and micro electromechanical systems. Engineering thin-film nanostructures for future applications is particularly challenging because it requires films that are atomically thin in nature. For example, future electronic devices or high-performance coatings may consist of 1-3-atom-thick sequential layers of different metals, insulators (metal oxides and metal nitrides), and semiconductors with a total thickness of only 1.5-2.0 nm. These multilayer nanostructures are expected to exhibit enhanced electrical, mechanical, and optical properties that are not observed in the single component. Furthermore, the unique properties of these nanolaminates can be optimized through precise control over the thickness and composition of each nanolayer. Achieving this degree of atomic layer control in thin-film deposition necessitates exploiting novel surface chemistries for thin-film growth and techniques for measuring thin-film growth rate, chemical composition, microstructure, and their electrical and transport properties. The commonly used approach in process development and optimization relies on expensive and time consuming trial-and-error procedures which explore the entire experimental parameter space. My research takes a fundamental surface science approach where we investigate the physical and chemical phenomena occurring at the gas-film interface using surface and gas-phase diagnostic tools such as angle-resolved x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, quadrupole mass spectrometry, Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, and Raman spectroscopy. A deeper understanding of the gas-surface interactions during thin-film growth is expected to lead to better deposition techniques and provide solutions for future problems.
“Self-limiting growth of tantalum oxide thin films by pulsed plasma-enhanced chemical vapor deposition,” M. Seman, J.J. Robbins, S. Agarwal, C.A. Wolden, Appl. Phys. Lett. 13, 131504 (2007).
“Well ordered polymer melts from blends of disordered triblock copolymer surfactants and functional homopolymers,” V.R. Tirumala, A. Romang, S. Agarwal, E.K. Lin, and J.J. Watkins, Adv. Mater. 20, 1603 (2008).
“Comparison of electrolyte performance for Ta2O5 thin films produced by pulsed and continuous wave PECVD,” M.T. Seman, J.J. Robbins, D. Leonhardt, S. Agarwal, C.A. Wolden, J. Electrochem. Soc. 155, J168 (2008).
“Surface reaction mechanisms during ozone-based atomic layer deposition of titanium dioxide,” V.R. Rai and S. Agarwal, J. Phys. Chem. C 112, 9552 (2008).
“Roughness and structural motifs on the Si(103) surface,” C.V. Ciobanu, B.N. Jariwala, T.E.B. Davies, S. Agarwal, Comp. Mat. Sci. 45, 150 (2009).