Since NBTI is triggered by the electric field across the dielectric, much importance is attached to the electrostatics within the device. Since source and drain are grounded during NBTI stress, the electrical potential remains almost constant along the interface so that the charge carriers face the same conditions for charge trapping over the entire channel area. As a consequence, the description of this process can be reduced to a one-dimensional problem (in the -direction) where the electrostatics are only governed by the gate bias. The corresponding band diagram of a MOSFET with a p-doped silicon substrate biased in inversion is depicted in Fig. 2.1 (left). Due to the potential difference between substrate and gate, the band edges are strongly bent close to the interface so that the conduction band forms a potential well. The electrons therein are confined to a small region close to the interface, which results in the build-up of discrete quasi-bound states , , , as shown in Fig. 2.1. The energetical separation between these states narrows towards higher energies and changes to a continuum of free states at the energy . In the two other dimensions (-plane), the channel electrons behave as free particles and can therefore carry a current in these directions. The combination of quasi-bound and free states yields subbands as illustrated in Fig. 2.1 (right). Therefore, steps appear in the electron density of states (DOS) , where each step belongs to one subband. The occupation probability of a state is given by Fermi-Dirac statistics, which apply as long as thermal equilibrium prevails. This is certainly the case for NBTI conditions, where the channel does not carry any appreciable current. Indeed, small and short channel current pulses, required in some measurement techniques to assess the NBTI degradation, lead to an overpopulation of high energy states. However, at the end of each pulse, the redistribution of the charge carriers back to equilibrium proceeds quickly and thus has not been noticed in experiments up to now. For this reason, electrons are assumed to obey the Fermi-Dirac statistics during NBTI conditions.

There exist several approximate methods to obtain the wavefunctions of bound states, however, each of them suffers from oversimplifications in certain regions. The first approach makes use of the Airy functions [98], which are solutions of the Schrödinger equation when the inversion layer is approximated by triangular potential well. Even though these functions satisfactorily reproduce the oscillatory behavior within the channel, they lack the exponential tails penetrating into the dielectric. This is due to the fact that the discontinuity at the interface is approximated by an infinitely high barrier. Another approach is provided by Gundlach’s method [99] that focuses on the part of the wavefunctions located within the dielectric. The channel electrons, however, are modeled as free particles in a constant potential and thus the effect of the electric field within the channel is not considered in this method. The third analytical approach relies on the Wentzel-Kramers-Brillouin (WKB) approximation [100, 101] (see Appendix A.2), which stems from a semi-classical derivation. However, this approximation breaks down at the classical turning points , , where the energies of the quasi-bound states , , , fall below the conduction band edge . This problem can be overcome using Langer’s method [102], which yields reasonable results — even in a region close to the classical turning points — and is thus frequently applied for the calculation of the tunneling probability. The most interesting part of the wavefunctions lies in the region left to the interface where the WKB approximation is often simplified assuming a trapezoidal, a triangular, or even a rectangular energy barrier (see Appendix A.3). The above deficiencies can be overcome by numerically solving the Schrödinger equation for the whole region including the substrate and the dielectric. This, for instance, is carried out in a Schrödinger-Poisson solver, which also considers the electrostatics within the device (see Chapter 3).

The injection of electrons into the dielectric is hindered in crystal and amorphous structures due to the absence of any quantum states within their bandgap. Atomic arrangements, where the symmetry of the regular structure is broken, are termed defects. During processing they unavoidably arise in large abundance and are distributed over the whole oxide. Furthermore, these defects have orbitals that can potentially introduce energy levels within the insulator bandgap and are thus capable of capturing and emitting substrate charge carriers. The band edges of the dielectric are large energy barriers for the charge carriers in the substrate. Since the band offset between the substrate and the dielectric has values of several electron volts, thermal activation over these barriers is negligible when there is only a small bias applied between source and drain. However, the wavefunctions of the charge carriers feature quickly decaying tails into the oxide. This implies a non-zero probability of encountering charge carriers within the dielectric, meaning that they penetrate into the dielectric and can be captured by defects. The rates of such transitions are given by Fermi’s golden rule.

The subscripts and denote the initial and the final state of the tunneling electron. is a matrix element, which is associated with the transition and can be calculated as The term in equation (2.1) guarantees energy conservation before and after the transition. This kind of process is commonly referred to as ‘elastic’, where this term only refers to the energy of the exchanged electron.Tewksbury [23] provided an expression for matrix element assuming a constant oxide field within the dielectric and a constant potential within the substrate. In his derivation, the trap was approximated by a -type potential

Lundstrom et al. [104] derived an expression of the matrix element assuming a step-potential for and a three-dimensional -type trap potential [104].

The mechanism of pure elastic electron tunneling is often used as the standard explanation of charge trapping in MOSFETs. Over the time, several simplified expressions of tunneling rates have been published in numerous distinct charge trapping models [105, 106] and will be touched on for completeness below. Christenson et al. [106] used Shockley-Read-Hall statistics in order to investigate the low frequency noise spectrum of a MOS transistor. His hole capture rates incorporate a tunneling probability through a rectangular potential barrier depending on the depth of a trap .