Multiscale connections between morphology and chemistry in crystalline, zinc-substituted hydroxyapatite nanofilms designed for biomedical applications

E. O. López, A. L. Rossi, P. L. Bernardo, R. O. Freitas, A. Mello and A. M. Rossi

Ceramics International 45, 793 (2019)
Hydroxyapatite (HA), Ca10(PO4)6(OH)2, is a key material used to manufacture thin, bioactive coatings on metal implants for hard tissue regeneration. Technical challenges in their fabrication include control of the coating structure and chemical composition, as well as managing surface activation via ionic substitution. In this study, 15 – 216 nm-thick zinc-doped HA (ZnHA) thin films were grown via magnetron sputtering at room temperature. The effect of substituting Zn2+ for Ca2+ on the ultrastructures of the HA films was analyzed during several stages of film growth. Infrared vibrational scattering scanning near-field optical microscopy (s-SNOM) using the ultra-broad-band IR beam from synchrotron radiation was compared with Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy in attenuated total reflectance (FTIR/ATR) to reveal the close relationships between local topography and the chemical compositions of the film surface and the bulk of the film. The energy delivered via ionic bombardment induced the formation of complex structures: island-shaped nanoparticles of amorphous zinc-doped calcium phosphate, coalescent islands, disordered non-stoichiometric ZnHA nanoparticles, and long-range structures of nearly stoichiometric and crystalline ZnHA. Grazing incidence X-ray diffraction (GIXRD) from synchrotron radiation, X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS), focusing ion beam (FIB), and high-resolution transmission electron microscopy (HRTEM) confirmed Zn substitution into the HA lattice. Zinc was distributed homogeneously within the film structure (1.6 at%) but its concentration increased slightly on the film surface. The bulk of the film consisted of crystalline, columnar ZnHA domains oriented perpendicular to the substrate surface while the regions near the film/substrate interface were preferentially disordered and non-stoichiometric.