Viktor Šroba, Tomáš Fiantok, Martin Truchlý, Tomáš Roch, Miroslav Zahoran, Branislav Grančič, Peter Švec, Jr., Štefan Nagy, Vitalii Izai, Peter Kúš and Marián Mikula

Tantalum diboride (TaB2 ) belonging to the ultrahigh temperature ceramics family is proving to be a promising material for hard protective films, thanks to its high thermal stability and excellent mechanical properties. However, growth of TaB 2 ± x films prepared using physical vapor deposition techniques is strongly affected by Ar neutrals reflected from a stoichiometric TaB 2 target due to a significant mass difference of heavy Ta and light B atoms leading to substantial changes in the final chemical composition and structure of films. In this work, TaB 2 ± x films are experimentally prepared using high target utilization sputtering. Stopping and range of ions in matter simulations are used to investigate the behavior of Ar neutrals during deposition processes. A wide range of analytical methods is used to completely characterize the chemical composition, structure, and mechanical properties of TaB 2 ± x films, and the explanation of the obtained results is supported by density functional theory calculations. TaB 2 ± x films grow in a broad compositional range from TaB 1.36 to TaB 3.84 depending on the kinetic energy of Ar neutrals. The structure of overstoichiometric TaB 2 + x films consists of 0001 preferentially oriented α-TaB 2 nanocolumns surrounded by a boron-tissue phase. In the case of highly understoichiometric TaB 2 − x films, the boron-tissue phase disappears and the structure consisting of 0001 and 10  11 oriented α-TaB 2 nanocolumns is formed. All TaB 2 ± x films exhibit excellent mechanical properties with high hardness, ranging from 27 to 43 GPa and relatively low values of Young’s modulus in the range of 304–488 GPa.

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