Suppression of nano-hydride growth on Nb(100) due to nitrogen doping

J Chem Phys. 2020 Jun 7;152(21):214703. doi: 10.1063/5.0007042.


Niobium superconducting radio frequency (SRF) cavities enable the operation of modern superconducting accelerator facilities. These cavities do not approach the theoretical performance limits of Nb due to the deleterious effects of surface defects and chemical inhomogeneities such as Nb hydrides. Nitrogen doping is known to consistently increase the cavity performance and inhibit Nb hydride growth, but a comprehensive understanding of Nb hydride growth and suppression is not yet realized. Scanning tunneling microscopy (STM), scanning tunneling spectroscopy (STS), and density functional theory (DFT) calculations presented herein elucidate the real-time, nanoscale structural and electronic evolution of undoped, hydrogen doped, and hydrogen and nitrogen doped Nb(100) due to the growth and suppression of Nb nano-hydrides. DFT calculations in agreement with the experimental data found unique near-surface phases stabilized upon dopant incorporation. The experimental STM and STS results and DFT calculations reported herein provide the first in situ and real-time nanoscale visualization and characterization of the effects of nitrogen doping on Nb hydride suppression and growth. Such information allows for further optimization of nitrogen doping procedures and advances in the performance of SRF materials for next-generation SRF-based accelerators and free electron lasers.