Passivation (chemistry)

Passivation, in physical chemistry and engineering, refers to coating a material so it becomes "passive," that is, less readily affected or corroded by the environment. Passivation involves creation of an outer layer of shield material that is applied as a microcoating, created by chemical reaction with the base material, or allowed to build by spontaneous oxidation in the air. As a technique, passivation is the use of a light coat of a protective material, such as metal oxide, to create a shield against corrosion.[1] Passivation of silicon is used during fabrication of microelectronic devices.[2] In electrochemical treatment of water, passivation reduces the effectiveness of the treatment by increasing the circuit resistance, and active measures are typically used to overcome this effect, the most common being polarity reversal, which results in limited rejection of the fouling layer.[clarification needed][citation needed]

When exposed to air, many metals naturally form a hard, relatively inert surface layer, usually an oxide (termed the "native oxide layer") or a nitride, that serves as a passivation layer. In the case of silver, the dark tarnish is a passivation layer of silver sulfide formed from reaction with environmental hydrogen sulfide. (In contrast, metals such as iron oxidize readily to form a rough porous coating of rust that adheres loosely and sloughs off readily, allowing further oxidation.) The passivation layer of oxide markedly slows further oxidation and corrosion in room-temperature air for aluminium, beryllium, chromium, zinc, titanium, and silicon (a metalloid). The inert surface layer formed by reaction with air has a thickness of about 1.5 nm for silicon, 1–10 nm for beryllium, and 1 nm initially for titanium, growing to 25 nm after several years. Similarly, for aluminium, it grows to about 5 nm after several years.[3][4][5]

Surface passivation refers to a common semiconductor device fabrication process critical to modern electronics. It is the process by which a semiconductor surface such as silicon is rendered inert, and does not change semiconductor properties when it interacts with air or other materials. This is typically achieved by thermal oxidation, in which the material is heated and exposed to oxygen. In a silicon semiconductor, this process allows electricity to reliably penetrate to the conducting silicon below the surface, and to overcome the surface states that prevent electricity from reaching the semiconducting layer.[6][7] Surface passivation by thermal oxidation is one of the key features of silicon technology, and is dominant in microelectronics. The surface passivation process was developed by Mohamed M. Atalla at Bell Labs in the late 1950s.[6] It is commonly used to manufacture MOSFETs (metal-oxide-semiconductor field-effect transistors) and silicon integrated circuit chips (with the planar process), and is critical to the semiconductor industry.[6][7] Surface passivation is also critical to solar cell and carbon quantum dot technologies.

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