Effects of surface morphology of buffer layers on ZnO/sapphire heteroepitaxial growth have been investigated by means of "nitrogen mediated crystallization (NMC) method", where the crystal nucleation and growth are controlled by absorbed nitrogen atoms. We found a strong correlation between the height distribution profile of NMC-ZnO buffer layers and the crystal quality of ZnO films. On the buffer layer with a sharp peak in height distribution, a single-crystalline ZnO film with atomically-flat surface was grown. Our results indicate that homogeneous and high-density nucleation at the initial growth stages is critical in heteroepitaxy of ZnO on lattice mismatched substrates.
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