Skip to Main Content
This paper examines the atomic-scale defects involved in a metal-oxide-silicon field-effect-transistor reliability problem called the negative-bias temperature instability (NBTI). NBTI has become the most important reliability problem in modern complementary-metal-oxide-silicon technology. Despite 40 years of research, the defects involved in this instability were undetermined prior to this paper. We combine DC gate-controlled diode measurements of interface-state density with two very sensitive electrically detected magnetic-resonance measurements called spin-dependent recombination (SDR) and spin-dependent tunneling (SDT). An analysis of these measurements provides an identification of the dominating atomic-scale defects involved in NBTI in pure- and plasma-nitrided oxide (PNO)-based devices. We are also able to observe atomic-scale defects involved in HfO2-based devices (although a definitive identification of the dominating defects structure was not possible). Our results in pure- devices indicate an NBTI mechanism which is dominated by the generation of Pb0 and Pb1 interface-state defects. (Pb0 and Pb1 are both silicon dangling-bond defects, in which the central silicon is back-bonded to three other silicon atoms precisely at the interface). This observation is consistent with what most NBTI researchers have assumed. However, our observations in PNO devices contradict with what most NBTI researchers had previously assumed. We demonstrate that the dominating NBTI-induced defect in the plasma-nitrided devices is fundamentally different than those observed in pure-based devices. Our measurements indicate that the new plasma-nitrided NBTI-induced defect's physical location extends into the gate dielectric. The defect participates in both SDR and SDT. Our SDR results strongly indicate that the plasma-nitrided defect has a density of states which is more narrowly peaked than that of centers and is near the middl- e of the band gap. The high sensitivity of our SDT measurements allow an identification of the physical and chemical nature of this defect through observations of hyperfine interactions. The defects are silicon dangling bonds, in which the central silicon is back-bonded to nitrogen atoms. We call these NBTI-induced defects centers because of the similarities to the centers observed in silicon nitride (the silicon-nitrided center is also a silicon dangling bond in which the silicon atom is back-bonded to nitrogen atoms). The defect identification in plasma-nitrided devices helps to explain the following phenomena: (1) NBTI's enhancement in plasma-nitrided devices; (2) conflicting reports of NBTI-induced interface states and/or bulk traps; and (3) fluorine's ineffectiveness in reducing NBTI in plasma-nitrided devices. We also observe the atomic-scale defects involved in NBTI in HfO2-based devices and find that short- and long-term stressing generates different defects and that these defects are different than those observed in the SiO2 and plasma-nitrided devices. Our results also suggest that the NBTI-induced defects in these devices are physically located in the interfacial layer (not at the interface).