Research Article: An efficient method for indexing grazing-incidence X-ray diffraction data of epitaxially grown thin films

Date Published: May 01, 2020

Publisher: International Union of Crystallography

Author(s): Josef Simbrunner, Benedikt Schrode, Jari Domke, Torsten Fritz, Ingo Salzmann, Roland Resel.


A method is described for indexing grazing-incidence X-ray diffraction data of epitaxially grown thin films comprising various crystal orientations and/or polymorphs by measuring reciprocal-lattice vectors.

Partial Text

Crystal structure identification of thin films entails a number of technical and methodological challenges: (i) low scattering volumes translate into only a small number of observable diffraction peaks and (ii) under the presence of a substrate the crystallites grow in a preferred orientation (texture) (Birkholz, 2006 ▸). The situation becomes even more complex in the case of thin films formed by conjugated organic molecules. Their typical growth in crystal systems of low symmetry (in most cases monoclinic and triclinic), their tendency to polymorphism and thus the presence of several phases make crystal structure determination a difficult task (Tolan, 1999 ▸). Additionally, unknown polymorphs of organic materials are frequently observed within thin films only and cannot be determined independently via traditional methods like single-crystal diffraction (Jones et al., 2016 ▸). On isotropic substrates, the crystallization of molecular materials typically results in fibre-textured films comprising crystallites that share a common fibre axis perpendicular to the substrate surface but are azimuthally randomly oriented (Witte & Wöll, 2004 ▸). The use of anisotropic substrates (like rubbed polymer surfaces or single-crystalline surfaces) or anisotropic preparation methods (like off-centre spin coating, dip coating or off-axis evaporation) can result in even more distinguished textures of the crystallites (Müller et al., 1999 ▸; Brinkmann et al., 2003 ▸; Qu et al., 2016 ▸). In this context, particularly complicated cases include epitaxially grown molecular crystals on single-crystalline surfaces (Simbrunner et al., 2011 ▸). There, multiple preferred orientations of the crystals relative to the substrate surface can occur together with several symmetry-related in-plane alignments of the crystallites. For example, for the epitaxial order of the conjugated organic molecule para-quaterphenyl on Au(111) surfaces two different preferred orientations have been found, which show 24 different in-plane alignments each (Müllegger et al., 2003 ▸). For such films formed by epitaxially grown molecular crystals the identification and characterization of unknown polymorphs is a particularly challenging task (Dienel et al., 2008 ▸).

We now apply the above methodology to an epitaxially grown film of the conjugated organic molecule 6,13-pentacene­quinone (PQ, C22H12O2, CAS No. 3029-32-1) on an Ag(111) surface. PQ was purchased from Sigma Aldrich (purity 99%) and purified via vacuum sublimation before usage. Substrate preparation and film preparation were conducted in an ultra high vacuum (UHV) chamber with a base pressure of 1 × 10−8 Pa. Before thin-film deposition, the substrate surface was cleaned by repeated cycles of Ar+ sputtering at an energy of 700 eV and angles of ±45° to the sample normal, followed by thermal annealing at 770 K for 30 min. Surface quality was confirmed by low-energy electron diffraction (LEED). PQ was deposited by thermal evaporation from a quartz crucible at a constant temperature of 480 K for 60 min with the deposition time controlled by a shutter, resulting in an approximate film thickness of 10 nm. During deposition, the substrate was kept at room temperature and the chamber pressure increased to 4 × 10−7 Pa. A top layer of aluminium tris-(8-hy­droxy­quin­oline) (Alq3, C27H18AlN3O3, CAS No. 2085-33-8), known to grow amorphously, was deposited from a quartz crucible at a constant temperature of 550 K for 55 min to keep the PQ crystals free from environmental influences and to reduce beam damage during the X-ray diffraction experiments. Alq3 was obtained from Sigma Aldrich at sublimed grade with a purity of 99.995% trace metal basis and was used without further purification.

We regard our algorithm for the analysis of X-ray diffraction patterns of thin films via rotating the sample to determine reciprocal-lattice vectors advantageous for the following reasons: (i) the lattice vectors of the involved unit cells and their orientation can be determined simultaneously. The method is suitable for implementation of (semi)automatic processing. (ii) Only a few reciprocal vectors are required. Theoretically, only three vectors are sufficient to determine the parameters and orientation of the unit cell if the determinant of the matrix of the corresponding Laue indices is ±1. (iii) Indexing is possible even if crystals with different crystallographic unit cells and orientations are present. Depending on measurement accuracy and available boundary conditions, about six to eight related reciprocal vectors may be sufficient for a correct assignment to the corresponding unit cell. The knowledge of a contact plane as determined by available specular diffraction data can be of considerable help for selecting the proper unit-cell vectors. (iv) No previous knowledge of the structure is necessary, and the intensities of the various reflections are not required. For symmetry considerations, however, the diffraction intensities must be included.

In this work, we present an algorithm for indexing GIXD diffraction patterns obtained with monochromatic radiation, where three-dimensional reciprocal-lattice vectors are determined as is done in single-crystal diffraction experiments. Our method is particularly advantageous if the number of reflections is relatively small or the sample is inhomogeneous and consists of various crystal lattices or orientations, as is commonly found for thin films grown on single-crystalline substrates. For easy access to epitaxial relationships the lattice constants of the involved unit cells and the parameters of the orientation matrix can be determined simultaneously.




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