Polycrystalline aluminum nitride (AlN) layers were deposited by pulsed-dc reactive magnetron sputtering from a variable deposition angle α = 0°–84° in 5 mTorr pure N2 at room temperature. X-ray diffraction pole figure analyses show that layers deposited from a normal angle (α = 0°) exhibit fiber texture, with a random in-plane grain orientation and the c-axis tilted by 42° ± 2° off the substrate normal, yielding wurtzite AlN grains with the {101¯2} plane approximately parallel (±2°) to the substrate surface. However, as α is increased to 45°, two preferred in-plane grain orientations emerge, with populations I and II having the c-axis tilted toward and away from the deposition flux, by 53° ± 2° and 47° ± 1° off the substrate normal, respectively. Increasing α further to 65° and 84°, results in the development of a single population II with a 43° ± 1° tilt. This developing biaxial texture is attributed to a competitive growth mode under conditions where the adatom mobility is sufficient to cause intergrain mass transport, but insufficient for the thermodynamically favored low energy {0001} planes to align parallel to the layer surface. Consequently, AlN nuclei are initially randomly oriented and form a kinetically determined crystal habit exposing {0001} and {112¯0} facets. The expected direction of its highest growth rate is 49° ± 5° tilted relative to the c-axis, in good agreement with the 42°–53° measured tilt. The in-plane preferred orientation for α > 0° is well explained by the orientation dependence in the cross section of the asymmetric pyramidal nuclei to capture directional deposition flux. The observed tilt is ideal for shear mode electromechanical coupling, which is maximized at 48°.

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