Silicon nitride and silicon oxynitride thin films are widely used in microelectronic fabrication and microelectromechanical systems (MEMS). Their mechanical properties are important for MEMS structures; however, these properties are rarely reported, particularly the fracture toughness of these films. In this study, silicon nitride and silicon oxynitride thin films were deposited by plasma enhanced chemical vapor deposition (PECVD) under different silane flow rates. The silicon nitride films consisted of mixed amorphous and crystalline Si3
phases under the range of silane flow rates investigated in the current study, while the crystallinity increased with silane flow rate in the silicon oxynitride films. The Young’s modulus and hardness of silicon nitride films decreased with increasing silane flow rate. However, for silicon oxynitride films, Young’s modulus decreased slightly with increasing silane flow rate, and the hardness increased considerably due to the formation of a crystalline silicon nitride phase at the high flow rate. Overall, the hardness, Young modulus, and fracture toughness of the silicon nitride films were greater than the ones of silicon oxynitride films, and the main reason lies with the phase composition: the SiNx
films were composed of a crystalline Si3
phase, while the SiOx
films were dominated by amorphous Si–O phases. Based on the overall mechanical properties, PECVD silicon nitride films are preferred for structural applications in MEMS devices.
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