In this paper, the results of detailed X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) studies combined with atomic force microscopy (AFM) investigation concerning the local surface chemistry and morphology of nanostructured ZnO thin films are presented. They have been deposited by direct current (DC) reactive magnetron sputtering under variable absolute Ar/O2
flows (in sccm): 3:0.3; 8:0.8; 10:1; 15:1.5; 20:2, and 30:3, respectively. The XPS studies allowed us to obtain the information on: (1) the relative concentrations of main elements related to their surface nonstoichiometry; (2) the existence of undesired C surface contaminations; and (3) the various forms of surface bondings. It was found that only for the nanostructured ZnO thin films, deposited under extremely different conditions, i.e., for Ar/O2
flow ratio equal to 3:0.3 and 30:3 (in sccm), respectively, an evident and the most pronounced difference had been observed. The same was for the case of AFM experiments. What is crucial, our experiments allowed us to find the correlation mainly between the lowest level of C contaminations and the local surface morphology of nanostructured ZnO thin films obtained at the highest Ar/O2
ratio (30:3), for which the densely packaged (agglomerated) nanograins were observed, yielding a smaller surface area for undesired C adsorption. The obtained information can help in understanding the reason of still rather poor gas sensor characteristics of ZnO based nanostructures including the undesired ageing effect, being of a serious barrier for their potential application in the development of novel gas sensor devices.
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