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Nitride-Based Nanocomposite Thin Films Towards Tunable Nanostructures and Functionalities
Optical metamaterials have triggered extensive studies driven by their fascinating electromagnetic properties that are not observed in natural materials. Aside from the extraordinary progress, challenges remain in scalable processing and material performance which limit the adoption of metamaterial towards practical applications. The goal of this dissertation is to design and fabricate nanocomposite thin films by combining nitrides with a tunable secondary phase to realize controllable multi-functionalities towards potential device applications. Transition metal nitrides are selected for this study due to the inherit material durability and low-loss plasmonic properties that offer stable two-phase hybridization for potential high temperature optical applications. Using a pulsed laser deposition technique, the nitride-metal nanocomposites are self-assembled into various geometries including pillar-in-matrix, embedded nanoinclusions or complex multilayers, that possess large surface coverage, high epitaxial quality, and sharp phase boundary. The nanostructures can be further engineered upon precise control of growth parameters.
This dissertation is composed of a general review of related background and experimental approaches, followed by four chapters of detailed research chapters. The first two research chapters involve hybrid metal (Au, Ag) - titanium nitride (TiN) nanocomposite thin films where the metal phase is self-assembled into sub-20 nm nanopillars and further tailored in terms of packing density and tilting angles. The tuning of plasmonic resonance and dielectric constant have been achieved by changing the concentration of Au nanopillars, or the tuning of optical anisotropy and angular selectivity by changing the tilting angle of Ag nanopillars. Towards applications, the protruded Au nanopillars are demonstrated to be highly functional for chemical bonding detection or surface enhanced sensing, whereas the embedded Ag nanopillars exhibit enhanced thermal and mechanical stabilities that are promising for high temperature plasmonic applications. In the last two chapters, dissimilar materials candidates beyond plasmonics have been incorporated to extend the electromagnetic properties, include coupling metal nanoinclusions into a wide bandgap semiconducting aluminum nitride matrix, as well as inserting a dielectric spacer between the hybrid plasmonic claddings for geometrical tuning and electric field enhancement. As a summary, these studies present approaches in addressing material and fabrication challenges in the field of plasmonic metamaterials from fundamental materials perspective. As demonstrated in the following chapters, these hybrid plasmonic nanocomposites provide multiple advantages towards tunable optical or biomedical sensing, high temperature plasmonics, controllable metadevices or nanophotonic chips.