Low-Temperature Deposition of Titanium Nitride (TiN) on Plastic Substrates

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Titanium nitride (TiN) is a popular coating for a variety of industries and applications. It is hard, wear resistant, chemically stable, self-lubricating and water resistant – it also exhibits unique physiochemical properties resembling gold, sparking great interest in plasmonic devices.

However, TiN has relatively modest electrical conductivity compared to noble metals and other materials, which hampers its widespread use in electronic devices. It is particularly challenging to fabricate TiN layers on plastic substrates like polymer electrodes in neuronal interfaces. This is due to the high temperatures required for obtaining quality TiN by physical or chemical vapor deposition, which are incompatible with organic substrates used for ultrathin flexible neural interfaces.

We report a simple, low-temperature deposition method for achieving quality titanium nitride layers on plastic substrates. Our method relies on a combination of ion beam sputtering with an in-depth characterization by Raman spectroscopy. We achieve stoichiometric TiN with a gap comparable to that of commercial TiN, but at least an order of magnitude higher conductivity. Moreover, we found that TiN prepared with our method is more inert to oxygen plasma ions than commercial TiN, which makes it better suited for fabrication of transparent conductive electrodes.

We characterized the TiN layer using a Profilometry GT-K1 system (Bruker), and performed roughness mappings of the film surfaces as well as arithmetic and quadratic surface roughness coefficients. We also used a Rigaku SmartLab system equipped with a Cu X-ray tube for Bragg-Brentano XRD characterization of the samples.