We find that a five-phase (substrate, mixed native oxide and roughness interface layer, metal oxide thin film layer, surface ligand layer, ambient) model with two-dynamic (metal oxide thin film layer thickness and surface ligand layer void fraction) parameters (dynamic dual box model) is sufficient to explain in-situ spectroscopic ellipsometry data measured within and across multiple cycles during plasma-enhanced atomic layer deposition of metal oxide thin films. We demonstrate our dynamic dual box model for analysis of in-situ spectroscopic ellipsometry data in the photon energy range of 0.7–3.4 eV measured with time resolution of few seconds over large numbers of cycles during the growth of titanium oxide (TiO2) and tungsten oxide (WO3) thin films, as examples. We observe cyclic surface roughening with fast kinetics and subsequent roughness reduction with slow kinetics, upon cyclic exposure to precursor materials, leading to oscillations of the metal thin film thickness with small but positive growth per cycle. We explain the cyclic surface roughening by precursor-surface interactions leading to defect creation, and subsequent surface restructuring. Atomic force microscopic images before and after growth, x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, and x-ray diffraction investigations confirm structural and chemical properties of our thin films. Our proposed dynamic dual box model may be generally applicable to monitor and control metal oxide growth in atomic layer deposition, and we include data for SiO2 and Al2O3 as further examples.
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