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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Plasma and Ion Assistance in Physical Vapor Deposition: A Historical Perspective


Deposition of films using plasma or plasma-assist can be traced back surprisingly far, namely to the 18th century for arcs and to the 19th century for sputtering. However, only since the 1960s the coatings community considered other processes than evaporation for large scale commercial use. Ion Plating was perhaps the first important process, introducing vapor ionization and substrate bias to generate a beam of ions arriving on the surface of the growing film. Rather independently, cathodic arc deposition was established as an energetic condensation process, first in the former Soviet Union in the 1970s, and in the 1980s in the Western Hemisphere. About a dozen various ion-based coating technologies evolved in the last decades, all characterized by specific plasma or ion generation processes. Gridded and gridless ion sources were taken from space propulsion and applied to thin film deposition. Modeling and simulation have helped to make plasma and ions effects to be reasonably well understood. Yet--due to the complex, often non-linear and non-equilibrium nature of plasma and surface interactions--there is still a place for the experience plasma "sourcerer."

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