Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


Boron nitride (BN) in its cubic form (cubic boron nitride (c-BN)) is one of the known superhard materials with superior mechanical, chemical and electronic properties. These properties have made it an excellent material in many modern industrial and electronic applications and as such, extensive research grounds have been developed for over half a decade now with the aim of finding alternative ways to synthesize it. The work presented in this thesis was inspired by the fact that defects introduced into the hexagonal form of boron nitride (h-BN) under certain conditions can lead to a change in its local structure and hence the formation of the cubic BN symmetry. The work focused on the introduction of different ions which included helium, lithium, boron, nitrogen and argon into h-BN, by the ion implantation process, in order to promote a defect-induced phase change to the cubic symmetry and possibly to other BN polymorphs. We introduced these ions at different fluences (number of ions per unit area) and energies so as to investigate the best conditions that will influence the lowest activation energy that will in turn favour the c-BN formation. The resulting thin hard layer could be an excellent sub-surface treatment. All the samples used were high quality polycrystalline and single crystal h-BN, obtained from various manufacturers. The fluence range used was from 1×1013 ions/cm2 to 5×1016 ions/cm2, with energy ranging from 40 keV to 150 keV. This energy and fluence choice was inspired by previous research that had been done at higher energies (MeV range) and recommended that low energy (keV range) and fluence could induce similar change. To investigate these effects, various analysis techniques were employed. The major techniques involved optical vibrational methods using Raman Spectroscopy ii iii (RS) and Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR) carried out on the samples before and after implantation. Other techniques used included Glancing Incidence X-ray Diffraction (GIXRD), Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM), and Energy Dispersive X-ray Spectroscopy (EDS). Raman and FTIR measurements showed the introduction of new phonon and vibrational modes in the samples after implantation. The position, size and broadening suggested that they originated from a symmetry attributed to nano-structured cubic BN (nc-BN). The nature and extent of the nc-BN features was very dependent on the implantation parameters with different atomic mass ions each having an optimum fluence with regards to the intensities of the Raman and FTIR signal associated with them. Glancing incidence X-ray diffraction showed new diffraction patterns whose angles corresponded to the cubic and rhombohedral BN symmetries. The linewidths of these peaks were used to estimate the crystal size, which were in the nanoscale range, hence complementing the results obtained by optical spectroscopy. The High-Angle Annular Dark-field Scanning Transmission Electron microscopy (HAADF-STEM) analyses showed regions with low contrast within the implanted region, suggesting that there were regions within the implanted layer that contained dense structures which were attributed to the cubic BN symmetry. Computer simulations using the Stopping and Range of Ions in Matter (SRIM) programme were performed to understand the events that take place during the interaction of the ions with h-BN. Phonon confinement model calculations were also performed to understand the nature of peaks forming after implantation with an aim of support Raman measurements and to estimate the size of the nc-BN domains. With these complementary analyses, it was concluded that indeed implantation is an effective method of creating nanocrystalline c-BN under less extreme conditions of pressure and temperature.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jan 2015


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