The growth process of etectroless nickel-phosphorous (NiP) films on nonconducting substrate was investigated quantitatively using tapping mode atomic force microscopy (TMAFM) with focus upon the nucleation density on the substrate surface. Three kinds of catalyzing processes were used for polyimide substrates to obtain nucleation densities of 900, 750, and 550 nuclei/μm2. The TMAFM observation showed that the film growth proceeds mainly through successive nucleation of fine "particles" with several nanometers in diameter and their three-dimensional growth, and that the nucleation density influences the state of aggregation of the particles and hence the resulting surface topography. The lower nucleation density developed the rougher surface with larger "grains" with a diameter of ca. 80 nm. However, the effect of nucleation density decayed with film growth and eventually vanished at a thickness of ca. 2000 nm due to successive nucleated. For comparison, the growth process of NiP on NiP coated Al substrate, which is used for rigid magnetic disk applications and has a higher nucleation density of 3000 nuclei/μm2, was also examined. This process resulted in a smooth surface without the formation of "aggregates." Based upon these results, the root-mean-square roughness and scaling analyses were performed to evaluate quantitatively the differences in growth process.
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