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Plasma potential of a moving ionization zone in DC magnetron sputtering

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Using movable emissive and floating probes, we determined the plasma and floating potentials of an ionization zone (spoke) in a direct current magnetron sputtering discharge. Measurements were recorded in a space and time resolved manner, which allowed us to make a three-dimensional representation of the plasma potential. From this information we could derive the related electric field, space charge, and the related spatial distribution of electron heating. The data reveal the existence of strong electric fields parallel and perpendicular to the target surface. The largest E-fields result from a double layer structure at the leading edge of the ionization zone. We suggest that the double layer plays a crucial role in the energization of electrons since electrons can gain several 10 eV of energy when crossing the double layer. We find sustained coupling between the potential structure, electron heating, and excitation and ionization processes as electrons drift over the magnetron target. The brightest region of an ionization zone is present right after the potential jump, where drifting electrons arrive and where most local electron heating occurs. The ionization zone intensity decays as electrons continue to drift in the Ez × B direction, losing energy by inelastic collisions; electrons become energized again as they cross the potential jump. This results in the elongated, arrowhead-like shape of the ionization zone. The ionization zone moves in the -Ez × B direction from which the to-be-heated electrons arrive and into which the heating region expands; the zone motion is dictated by the force of the local electric field on the ions at the leading edge of the ionization zone. We hypothesize that electron heating caused by the potential jump and physical processes associated with the double layer also apply to magnetrons at higher discharge power, including high power impulse magnetron sputtering.

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