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Ion implantation

Ion implantation is a materials engineering process by which ions of a material can be implanted into another solid, thereby changing the physical properties of the solid. Ion implantation is used in semiconductor device fabrication and in metal finishing, as well as various applications in Materials Science research. The ions introduce both a chemical change in the target, in that they can be a different element than the target, and a structural change, in that the crystal structure of the target can be damaged or even destroyed.

Ion implantion equipment typically consists of an ionization chamber, where ions of the desired element are produced, an accelerator, where the ions are electrostatically accelerated to a high energy, and a target chamber, where the ions impinge on a target, which is the material to be implanted. Each ion is typically a single atom, and thus the actual amount of material implanted in the target is the integral over time of the ion current. This amount is called the dose. The currents supplied by implanters are typically small ( microamperes ), and thus the dose which can be implanted in a reasonable amount of time is small. Thus, ion implantation finds application in cases where the amount of chemical change required is small.

Typical ion energies are in the range of 10 keV to 500 keV. Energies in the range 1 keV to 10 keV can be used, but result in a penetration of only a few nanometers or less. Energies lower than this result in very little damage to the target, and fall under the designation Ion Beam Deposition. Higher energies can also be used: accelerators capable of 5 MeV are common. However, there is often great structural damage to the target, and because the depth distribution is broad, the net composition change at any point in the target will be small.

The energy of the ions, as well as the ion species and the composition of the target determine the depth of penetration of the ions in the solid: A monoenergetic ion beam will generally have a broad depth distribution. The average penetration depth is called the range of the ions. Under typical circumstances ion ranges will be between 10 nanometers and 1 micrometer. Thus, ion implantation is especially useful in cases where the chemical or structural change is desired to be near the surface of the target. Ions gradually lose their energy as they travel through the solid, both from occasional collisions with target atoms ( which cause abrupt energy tranfers) and from a mild drag from overlap of electron orbitals, which is a continuous process. The loss of ion energy in the target is called stopping.

Application in semiconductor device fabrication


The introduction of dopants in a semiconductor is the most common application of ion implantation. Dopant ions such as boron, prosphorous or arsenic are generally created from a gas source, so that the purity of the source can be very high. These gases tend to be very hazardous. When implanted in a semiconductor, each dopant atom creates a charge carrier in the semiconductor ( hole or electron, depending on if it is a p-type or n-type dopant ), thus modifying the conductivity of the semiconductor in its vicinity.

Silicon on Insulator

Oxygen can be implanted at high energy into a silicon substrate, at a high enough dose to form an oxide layer underneath the surface layer of silicon. The oxide is an insulator, thus producing a silicon on insulator (SOI) structure.


Mesotaxy is the term for the growth of a crystallographically matching phase underneath the surface of the host crystal ( compare to epitaxy, which is the growth of the matching phase on the surface of a substrate ). In this process, ions are implanted at a high enough energy and dose into a material to create a layer of a second phase, and the temperature is controlled so that the crystal structure of the target is not destroyed. The crystal orientation of the layer can be engineered to match that of the target,even though the exact crystal structure and lattice constant may be very different . For example, after the implantation of nickel ions into a silicon wafer, a layer of nickel silicide can be grown in which the crystal orientation of the silicide matches that of the silicon.

Application in metal finishing

Tool steel toughening

nitrogen or other ions can be implanted into a tool steel target ( drill bits, for example ). The structural change caused by the implantation produces a surface compression in the steel, which prevent crack propagation and thus makes the material more resistant to fracture. The chemical change can also make the tool more resistant to corrosion.

Surface finishing

In some applications, for example prosthetic devices such as artificial joints, it is desired to have surfaces very resistant to both chemical corrosion and wear due to friction. Ion implantation is used in such cases to engineer the surfaces of such devices for more reliable performance. As in the case of tool steels, the surface modification caused by ion implantation includes both a surface compression which prevents crack propagation and an alloying of the surface to make it more chemically resistant to corrosion.

Other issues in ion implantation

Crystallographic Damage

Each individual ion produces many point defects in the target crystal on impact such as vacancies and interstitials. Vacancies are crystal lattice points unoccupied by an atom: in this case the ion collides with a target atom, resulting in transfer of a significant amount of energy to the target atom such that it leaves iots crystal site. This target atom then itself becomes a projectile in the solid, and can cause successive collision events. Interstitials result when such atoms ( or the original ion itself come to rest in the solid, but find no vacant space in the lattice to reside. These point defects can migrate and cluster with each other, resulting in dislocation loops and other defects.

Damage Recovery

Because ion implantation causes damage to the crystal structure of the target which is often unwanted, ion implantation processing is often followed by a thermal annealing. This can be referred to as damage recovery.


The amount of crystallographic damage can be enough to completely amorphize the surface of the target: i.e. it can become a glass. In some cases, complete amorphization of a target is preferable to a highly defective crystal: An amorphized film can be regrown at a lower temperature than required to anneal a highly damaged crystal.


Some of the collision events result in atoms being ejected from the surface, and thus ion implantation will slowly etch away a surface. The effect is only appreciable for very large doses.

Ion Channelling

If there is a crystallographic structure to the target, and expecially in semiconductor substrates where the crystal structure is more open, particular crystallographic directions offer much lower stopping that other directions. The result is that the range of an ion can be much longer if the ion travels exactly along a particular direction, for example the <110> direction is silicon. This effect is called ion channelling. The is no relation between this effect and ion channel of a cell membrane.

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