Perovskite oxynitride semiconductors have attracted huge interest recently as promising photoelectrode materials for photoelectrochemical (PEC) water splitting. Depicted by, the extensive studies of the PEC activity of oxynitride powder-based photoelectrodes and/or deposited thin-film electrodes. High-crystalline-quality, oxynitride thin films grown by physical vapor deposition are ideal model systems to study the fundamental physical and chemical properties of the surface of these materials, including their evolution. In this work, using a combination of high-sensitivity low-energy ion scattering (LEIS) and X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS), we monitor surface evolution of LaTiOxNy (LTON) and CaNbOxNy (CNON) thin films before and after the PEC characterizations. The as-prepared epitaxial LTON films show a preferential LaO termination at the surface layers, followed by a Ti-enriched subsurface. Whereas, the polycrystalline CNON thin films exhibit a non-uniform surface, with a mixed surface termination and a significant Ca-segregated subsurface. After the PEC characterizations, additional precipitated LaO species are found on the outer surface of the LTON epitaxial films. However, no significant surface change is observed on the polycrystalline CNON films by LEIS. The XPS analysis shows, an increase of the oxidized Ti and Nb cations (Ti4+ and Nb5+) after the PEC reaction in the LTON and CNON films, respectively. The initial drops in photocurrent for the LTON and CNON films are attributed to the changes in the surface chemical status. This work provides insight into the surface characteristics and evolution of LTON and CNON oxynitride thin films as photoelectrodes for PEC applications.
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