Chemically stable and electrically conductive metal oxide nanofilms are promising as robust electrodes for chemical/biosensors and for photoelectrochemical applications, which require harsh conditions (e.g., acidic or basic environments). Among the various conductive metal oxides, impurity-doped ZnO nanofilms deposited on substrates are chemically nonresistive to acidic and basic environments because of the inevitable etching effects. Herein, we demonstrate a strategy to enhance the pH tolerance of Al-doped ZnO (AZO) nanofilms using a sequential annealing technique for film preparation. This technique involves first annealing in air followed by annealing in Zn vapor atmosphere. Although the as-grown AZO nanofilms rapidly dissolved in acidic and basic solutions, the sequentially annealed AZO nanofilms exhibited excellent pH tolerance toward the chemical etching rate and electrical resistance in buffer solutions, with pH ranging from 3 to 11. This enhancement effect of pH tolerance was considerably weakened when sequential annealing was performed in reverse (Zn vapor/air). The origin of the enhanced pH tolerance of the sequentially annealed AZO nanofilms is discussed in terms of the compensation of the anion/cation vacancies and the surface polarity of the ZnO(0001) surface.
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