"ZnO thin films are interesting for applications in several technological fields, including optoelectronics and renewable energies. Nanodevice applications require controlled synthesis of ZnO structures at nanometer scale, which can be achieved via atomic layer deposition (ALD). However, the mechanisms governing the initial stages of ALD had not been addressed until very recently. Investigations into the initial nucleation and growth as well as the atomic structure of the heterointerface are crucial to optimize the ALD process and understand the structure–property relationships for ZnO. We have used a complementary suite of in situ synchrotron x-ray techniques to investigate both the structural and chemical evolution during ZnO growth by ALD on two different substrates, i.e., SiO2 and Al2O3, which led us to formulate an atomistic model of the incipient growth of ZnO. The model relies on the formation of nanoscale islands of different size and aspect ratio and consequent disorder induced in the Zn neighbors’ distribution. However, endorsement of our model requires testing and discussion of possible alternative models which could account for the experimental results. In this work, we review, test, and rule out several alternative models; the results confirm our view of the atomistic mechanisms at play, which influence the overall microstructure and resulting properties of the final thin film.."
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