Kirkendall effect

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The Kirkendall effect is the migration of markers that occurs when markers are placed at the interface between an alloy and a metal, and the whole is heated to a temperature where diffusion is possible; the markers will move towards the alloy region. For example, using molybdenum as a marker between copper and brass (a copper-zinc alloy), molybdenum atoms will migrate towards the brass. This is explained by assuming that the zinc diffuses more rapidly than the copper, and thus diffuses out of the alloy down its concentration gradient. Such a process is impossible if the diffusion is by direct exchange of atoms.


The Kirkendall effect was named after Ernest Kirkendall (1914 - 2005-08-22) assistant professor of chemical engineering at Wayne State University from 1941 to 1946. He discovered the effect in 1947.

The Kirkendall effect has important practical consequences. One of these is the prevention or suppression of voids formed at the boundary interface in various kinds of alloy to metal bonding. These are referred to as Kirkendall voids.

In 1972, C.W. Horsting of the RCA Corporation published a paper which reported test results on the reliability of semiconductor devices in which the connections were made using aluminium wires bonded ultrasonically to gold plated posts. His paper demonstrated the importance of the Kirkendall effect in wire bonding technology, but also showed the significant contribution of any impurities present to the rate at which precipitation occurred at the wire bonds. Two of the important contaminants that have this effect are bromine and chlorine. Both Kirkendall voids and Horsting voids are known causes of wire bond fractures, though historically this cause is often confused with the purple colored appearance of one of the five different gold-aluminium intermetallics, commonly referred to as "purple plague" and less often "white plague".

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