Nanostructured Thin Films and Coatings

Modern life, as we experience it today, would not be possible without thin films and coatings. Owing to their small thickness, these films are almost invisible to the naked eye or buried below other surface layers. Nevertheless, their impact on electronic, optical, mechanical or biological functions of a material or device can be tremendous. For example, integrated electronic or data storage devices entirely rely on thin films. Materials science and engineering of thin films comprises also interface engineering, which is essential to optimize adhesion and performance of various kinds of thin films, for instance, in thin film solar cells, packaging foils, electronic devices and many other applications. Fuel-efficient automobiles require low-friction engine parts with designed thin films. Special coatings are also needed for processing tools such as cutters, drillers and many more. Optical coatings for energy-efficient windows or antireflection properties are further applications, among many others.


AlB2-type of  binary superlattices from 4.7 nm PbS nanocrystals and 2.5 nm Mo72V30 clusters

Empa covers a large fraction of these aspects. The following topics are addressed in particular:

  • Inorganic thin film photovoltaics based on CIGS, CdTe and perovskite solar cells as well as hybrid cells. For flexible thin film solar cells on polymer substrates Empa currently holds the efficiency world record with 20.4% energy conversion efficiency.
  • Hard and ultra-hard coatings such as diamond-like carbon as well as piezoelectric and magnetic thin films
  • Self-assembly of organic materials in thin films and surface-mediated synthesis of atomically precise graphene nanostructures: graphene nanoribbons (GNRs) are raising great interest as they exhibit width-dependent sizable band gaps suitable for digital electronics and optoelectronics, while maintaining electron conjugation and the outstanding transport properties of graphene. But exploring the potential of graphene nanoribbons is hampered by their limited availability. Together with the Max Plank Institute in Mainz (D) Empa has developed a novel synthesis method to produce atomically precise graphene nanoribbons of different topologies and widths using surface-assisted coupling of molecular precursors.
  • Nanoporous functional plasma polymers
  • Electro-deposition of nanostructured metals and semiconductors
  • Numerous deposition methods such as magnetron sputtering, HiPIMS, PACVD, PVD, arc-evaporation, laser ablation, plasma-polymerization, high-vacuum CVD, plasma spraying, electroplating, anodization processes, sol-gel, LIGA, inkjet-printing, ALD and many more