One of the most common forms of cohesive failure observed in brittle thin films subjected to a tensile residual stress is channel cracking, a fracture mode in which through-film cracks propagate in the film. The crack growth rate depends on intrinsic film properties, residual stress, the presence of reactive species in the environment, and the precise film stack. In this paper, we investigate the effect of various buffer layers sandwiched between a brittle carbon-doped-silicate (CDS) film and a silicon substrate on channel cracking of the CDS film. The results show that channel cracking is enhanced if the buffer layer is more compliant than the silicon substrate. Crack velocity increases with increasing buffer layer thickness and decreasing buffer layer stiffness. This is caused by a reduction of the constraint imposed by the substrate on the film and a commensurate increase in energy release rate. The degree of constraint is characterized experimentally as a function of buffer layer thickness and stiffness, and compared to the results of a simple shear lag model that was proposed previously.
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Tsui, T.Y., McKerrow, A.J. & Vlassak, J.J. Constraint Effects on Cohesive Failures in Low-k Dielectric Thin Films. MRS Online Proceedings Library 863, B4.1 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1557/PROC-863-B4.1