Thin Films and Coatings

Our group focuses on thin films and coatings, their preparation and analysis. We mainly use plasma-based techniques such as classical magnetron sputtering, HiPIMS and PACVD to deposit our coatings. XPS, XRD, SEM, Nanoindentation are the standard characterization techniques, while many other methods such as STEM, TOF-ERDA, TOF-SIMS, ellipsometry, AFM etc. provide indispensable additional information. We complement our experimental work with numerical simulations to support or discard explanations of the observed behavior of our synthesized films. Along with the characterization techniques they are an important tool for the further development of new coatings.

Why thin films and coatings?


Currently we are working on the following topics:


A Coatings Competence Center for HiPIMS deposition

The Coatings Competence Center at Empa consists of presently three facilities to deposit thin films. One of them is an Ingenia S3p coater by Oerlikon Balzers. For further information please visit the Coating Competence Center's website.



Ternary and quaternary coatings based on AlN

Thin nitride films such as TiN, TiAlN, CrAlN are most commonly used for wear protection. However, they cannot be used for applications, where optically transparency is required, as e.g. in protection of optical lenses.


This project focuses on the preparation and characterization of novel oxygen-, silicon- and carbon-containing AlN-based coatings with improved oxidation resistance and tunable residual stress states. The properties can be tuned by the oxygen content (see schematics above).


Manipulating the magnetic configuration through magnets rearrangement, including additional coils, is another means of controlling the deposition conditions, as shown below (confocal reactive magnetron sputtering)




Titanium coatings on polymers for osteointegration


Spinal disk implants made of polymers can be coated by metallic titanium films to improve bone ingrowth. Such films deposited by HiPIMS show an outstanding adhesion to the substrate and are therefore of interest for surgical applications.

Details can be obtained here:




Piezoactive parts for smart watches

Using piezo-active coatings allow tuning of the mechanical properties of spring watches. We explore the possibilities of combining piezoelectric coatings with the mechanical action of the spring for new applications in watchmaking.

Details can be obtained here:




Selected and recently finished projects:

- Interfaces and interphases in nitride and carbide nanocomposite thin films

- Coatings for Precision Glass Molding

- Wear Resistant Coatings for Managed Thermal Conductivity

- HiPIMS for nanocomposite coatings

- Design of multifunctional nitride-based hard coatings

- Smart dielectric elastomer actuator for muscle-like actuators



Laboratory for Nanoscale Materials Science
Empa - Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology
Überlandstrasse 129
8600 Dübendorf
Mobile +41 79 603 46 27


Senior Scientists
Kerstin Thorwarth, PhD; Ulrich Müller PhD

Rajesh Ganesan PhD, Daniele Scopece, PhD

PhD students
Maria Fischer, Mathis Trant

Master student
Aarati Chacko

Academic guests and visitors (2015, 2016)
Juan Ansó, Subong Jin

Former group members (present affiliation)
Paul M. Barker (Oxford University)
P.H. Michael Böttger (SKF Austria)
Erik J. Lewin (Uppsala University)
Dominik Jaeger (Evatec)
Magdalena Parlinska (University of Rzeszow)
Lorenzo Castaldi (†)
Aude Pélisson-Schecker (Steinbeis Europe)
Franz-Josef Haug (CSEM)
Thomas Zehnder
Matthieu Diserens
Jörg Patscheider




Open Positions

How to get to Empa


ICMCTF, PSE, SCT, SwissVacuum