Comparative Study of the Surface Roughness of Oxide Thin Films

  • Karl H. Guenther
  • Jean M. Bennett
  • Frank K. UrbanIII
  • Milad F. Tabet
  • Marc von Gunten
  • Ron Bevis
  • Mohammad M. Tehrani


Reactive low voltage ion plating (RLVIP) is based on plasma assisted electron beam evaporation of metallic starting material that is ionized and reacts with ionized and exited oxygen upon arriving at the surface to be coated. In earlier experiments, the roughness of the coating surface remained in the 0.2 to 0.6 nm root mean square (rms) range even for rather thick multilayer coatings when measured with an optical surface profilometer or a contacting stylus instrument. Contrary to this observation, films made with conventional electron beam evaporation have surface roughness increasing with film thickness. Smooth surfaces are of considerable interest for any optical coating because of low light scattering.

We investigates the surface of one silica and zirconia single layer coating each using atomic force microscopes (AFMs) of the types: WYKO MicroProbe 3D, Park Scientific AutoProbe (at Spectra Physics), and Digital Instruments NanoScope II (at FIU). A contacting stylus-type profiler (Talystep, at NAWC), and a noncontact optical heterodyne surface profilometer (WYKO TOPO 2-D, at NAWC) were used for comparison. First, AFM measurements using an experimental AFM (at WYKO) and the AutoProbe were repeated with the same samples after they were sized to fit the NanoScope II. For the repeating measurements at WYKO, a new MicroProbe 3D was used. The measurements yielded results that were consistent for each individual AFM, but fairly inconsistent in comparison. Talystep measurements compared in part with AFM measurements although different spatial wavelengths are contained in the surface profiles. The WYKO optical profiler averages over areas at least in diameter and does not resolve short spatial wavelengths, yielding 0.4 nm rms roughness for the substrate and coating surfaces alike.

In conclusion, we compared classical profiling of smooth RLVIP coatings with AFM measurements using three different instruments. Optical profiling renders coating roughness comparable to that of uncoated substrate surfaces, due to limited spatial resolution. Stylus profiling and AFMs include shorter spatial wavelengths, yielding larger coating roughness. This test showed also that different AFMs give different results.


Optical Surface Optical Coating Surface Roughness Measurement Bare Substrate Spatial Wavelength 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • Karl H. Guenther
    • 1
  • Jean M. Bennett
    • 2
  • Frank K. UrbanIII
    • 3
  • Milad F. Tabet
    • 3
  • Marc von Gunten
    • 4
  • Ron Bevis
    • 4
  • Mohammad M. Tehrani
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering Center for Research in Electro-Optics and LasersUniversity of Central FloridaOrlandoUSA
  2. 2.Research DepartmentNaval Air Warfare CenterChina LakeUSA
  3. 3.Department of Electrical and Computer EngineeringFlorida International UniversityMiamiUSA
  4. 4.Spectra Physics Components and Accessories GroupMountain ViewUSA
  5. 5.Litton Guidance and Control SystemsWoodland HillsUSA

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