Investigation of phase evolution within ZnO–Bi2O3 varistors utilizing thin film prototypes

Kevin Ferri, Elizabeth A. Paisley, Chris DiAntonio, Sang Woo Han, Rongming Chu, Jon Paul Maria

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Varistors are technologically important for their large energy handling capabilities and highly nonlinear electrical behavior when voltages above a characteristic switch field are applied. It is generally accepted that the prototypical ZnO–Bi2O3 varistor system forms electrostatic Schottky barriers at grain boundaries in response to residual Bi and other dopants left at grain surfaces during Bi2O3 segregation. While barrier heights can be modulated with formulation and defect chemistry, mechanisms by which dopant locations, defect compensation, and local phases determine varistor behavior are not completely understood. Bulk studies are challenging due to random grain boundary formation and difficulties studying individual boundaries. To circumvent these challenges in the ZnO–Bi2O3 varistor system, we use as-deposited and post-heat-treated thin film ZnO–Bi2O3 prototypes to simulate bulk varistor grain boundary phase formation and investigate resulting defect chemistry. Characterizing interactions between Bi2O3 films deposited on thin film and single-crystal ZnO by XRD and TEM-EDS revealed primarily Zn-out diffusion, resulting in two (Bi2O3)1−x(ZnO)x, or BZO, phases. Using these results, we present a saturated front model correlating changes in Bi2O3 thickness to phase evolution. We subsequently explore the influence of MnO doping leading to substantial changes in phase evolution for post-heat-treated (Mn:ZnO)–Bi2O3 stacks. Dopant-controlled Bi2O3 phase formations yield a 12 × difference, on average, between nonlinear coefficients for γ*- and β*-BZO. Graphical Abstract: [Figure not available: see fulltext.].

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)12740-12752
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Materials Science
Issue number22
StatePublished - Aug 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Materials Science
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering


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