Interlayer diffusion, i.e., mass transport between different terraces, is known to be an essential process for obtaining layer-by layer growth, avoiding formation of three dimensional (3D) islands when growing thin films. We present experimental results for growth of cobalt on Pt(111), which demonstrate the importance of kinks and corners for interlayer diffusion. We show that Co grows two-dimensional as long as strain caused by the Pt-Co interface keeps the step edges rough, with a high kink density, and then transforms to 3D growth with straight steps. Results for growth with adsorbed carbon monoxide shows that CO acts as a surfactant, causing 2D growth unless heterogeneous nucleation occurs. Again, this process is related to roughening of the steps, being a new mechanism for the action of a surfactant. A scanning tunneling microscopy study at the atomic scale confirms the fact that step descent happens only at kinks and (concave) corners, and in conjunction with simulations allows to identify some of the atomic exchange processes relevant. We finally argue that the dependence of the growth mode on the step morphology, together with straightening of the steps by step-step interaction, can lead to an instability of the growth mode.
Corresponding author: M. Schmid (schmid)
Users with online access to Appl. Phys. A can load the article from the publisher.