Novel NIST process is a low-cost route to ultrathin platinum films

Dec 13, 2012
Schematic shows self-quenched platinum deposition on a gold surface. Under a high driving voltage, platinum in solution (bound to four chloride atoms) can shed the chloride and bind to a location on the gold. Hydrogen rapidly adsorbs on the platinum, ensuring that the platinum forms an even surface a single atom thick. Credit: Gokcen/NIST

(—A research group at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has developed a relatively simple, fast and effective method of depositing uniform, ultrathin layers of platinum atoms on a surface. The new process exploits an unexpected feature of electrodeposition of platinum—if you drive the reaction much more strongly than usual, a new reaction steps in to shuts down the metal deposition process, allowing an unprecedented level of control of the film thickness.

Platinum is a widely used industrial catalyst—in automobile and —as well as a key component in microelectronics, so the discovery may have widespread application in the design and manufacture of platinum-based devices.

The metal is rare, and hence very pricey, so materials engineers try to use it sparingly as a thin layer on a substrate. They'd like to be able to control the deposition process down to uniform, single layers of atoms. Unfortunately, platinum doesn't always cooperate.

The model system studied at NIST—depositing a platinum layer on gold by electroplating—demonstrates the challenging nature of the problem. A voltage is applied to drive the deposition of platinum from an electrode onto the gold surface in an aqueous solution. Normally, this leads to a patchy and rough surface rather than the desired smooth and even layer of platinum, because platinum tends to attach first to any defects on the , and then tends to attach to itself, rather than the gold.

Novel NIST process is a low-cost route to ultrathin platinum films
Scanning tunneling microscope image shows ultrathin film layer of platinum deposited on gold after five seconds, using the NIST process. Darker areas are exposed gold substrate not yet covered by the platinum. Credit: Gokcen/NIST

The NIST team has found that increasing the voltage, the driving force of the reaction, far higher than normal to the point where the start to break down and form, leads to an unexpected and useful result. The hydrogen quickly forms a layer covering the freshly deposited platinum islands and completely quenches further metal deposition. Using a battery of analytic techniques, including a microbalance, X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy and scanning tunneling microscopy, the group found that the formation of the hydrogen layer was rapid enough to restrict deposition to the formation of a single layer of platinum atoms. The team further discovered that by pulsing the applied voltage, they could selectively remove the hydrogen layer to enable the platinum deposition process to be repeated to form another layer.

The deposition process occurs in a single plating bath and is surprisingly fast—1,000 times faster than making comparable films using molecular beam epitaxy, for example. It's also faster, simpler and less prone to contamination than other electrochemical techniques for depositing platinum films, making it much less expensive.

The novel technique, the researchers say, may also work with a number of other metal and alloy combinations, a subject of ongoing research.

Explore further: New material coating technology mimics nature's lotus effect (w/ video)

More information: Liu, Y., Gokcen, D., Bertocci, U. and Moffat, T.P. Self-terminating growth of platinum films by electrochemical deposition. Science, v. 338, 1327, Dec. 7, 2012. Doi: 10.1126/science.1228925

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Researchers develop superior fuel cell material

Aug 24, 2012

Using a mixture of gold, copper and platinum nanoparticles, IBN researchers have developed a more powerful and longer lasting fuel cell material. This breakthrough was published recently in leading journal, ...

SSRL contributes to platinum-based catalyst design

Aug 15, 2012

( -- Researchers from two SLAC-Stanford joint institutes, the Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Sciences (SIMES) and the SUNCAT Center for Interface Science and Catalysis, recently joined ...

Recommended for you

A greener source of polyester—cork trees

Apr 16, 2014

On the scale of earth-friendly materials, you'd be hard pressed to find two that are farther apart than polyester (not at all) and cork (very). In an unexpected twist, however, scientists are figuring out ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Dec 13, 2012
Nice. Could something similar be done to produce large sheets of graphene?

More news stories

Teachers' scare tactics may lead to lower exam scores

As the school year winds down and final exams loom, teachers may want to avoid reminding students of the bad consequences of failing a test because doing so could lead to lower scores, according to new research published ...