Over- and Undercoordinated Atoms as a Source of Electron and Hole Traps in Amorphous Silicon Nitride (a-Si3N4)

C Wilhelmer and D Waldhoer and L Cvitkovich and D Milardovich and M Waltl and T Grasser, NANOMATERIALS, 13, 2286 (2023).

DOI: 10.3390/nano13162286

Silicon nitride films are widely used as the charge storage layer of charge trap flash (CTF) devices due to their high charge trap densities. The nature of the charge trapping sites in these materials responsible for the memory effect in CTF devices is still unclear. Most prominently, the Si dangling bond or K-center has been identified as an amphoteric trap center. Nevertheless, experiments have shown that these dangling bonds only make up a small portion of the total density of electrical active defects, motivating the search for other charge trapping sites. Here, we use a machine-learned force field to create model structures of amorphous Si3N4 by simulating a melt-and-quench procedure with a molecular dynamics algorithm. Subsequently, we employ density functional theory in conjunction with a hybrid functional to investigate the structural properties and electronic states of our model structures. We show that electrons and holes can localize near over- and under- coordinated atoms, thereby introducing defect states in the band gap after structural relaxation. We analyze these trapping sites within a nonradiative multi-phonon model by calculating relaxation energies and thermodynamic charge transition levels. The resulting defect parameters are used to model the potential energy curves of the defect systems in different charge states and to extract the classical energy barrier for charge transfer. The high energy barriers for charge emission compared to the vanishing barriers for charge capture at the defect sites show that intrinsic electron traps can contribute to the memory effect in charge trap flash devices.

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