ACS Nano 17, 23944 (2023)
Phase identification in HfO2-based thin films is a prerequisite to understanding the mechanisms stabilizing the ferroelectric phase in these materials, which hold great promise in next-generation nonvolatile memory and computing technology. While grazing-incidence X-ray diffraction is commonly employed for this purpose, it has difficulty unambiguously differentiating between the ferroelectric phase and other metastable phases that may exist due to similarities in the d-spacings, their low intensities, and the overlapping of reflections. Infrared signatures provide an alternative route. However, their use in phase identification remains limited because phase control has overwhelmingly been accomplished via substituents, thereby convoluting infrared signatures between the substituents and the phase changes that they induce. Herein, we report the infrared optical responses of three undoped hafnium oxide films where annealing conditions have been used to create films consisting primarily of the ferroelectric polar orthorhombic Pca21, antipolar orthorhombic Pbca, and monoclinic P21/c phases, as was confirmed via transmission electron microscopy (TEM), UV–visible optical properties, and electrical property measurements. Vibrational signatures acquired from synchrotron nano-Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (nano-FTIR) are shown to be capable of differentiating between the phases in a nondestructive, rapid, and nanoscale manner. The utility of nano-FTIR is illustrated for a film exhibiting an antiferroelectric polarization response. In this sample, it is proven that this behavior results from the Pbca phase rather than the often-cited tetragonal phase. By demonstrating that IR spectroscopy can unambiguously distinguish phases in this material, this work establishes a tool needed to isolate the factors dictating the ferroelectric phase stability in HfO2-based materials.