Hydrogen reverses the clustering tendency of carbon in amorphous silicon oxycarbide.
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Amorphous silicon oxycarbide (SiOC) is of great technological interest. However, its atomic-level structure is not well understood. Using density functional theory calculations, we show that the clustering tendency of C atoms in SiOC is extremely sensitive to hydrogen (H): without H, the C-C interaction is attractive, leading to enrichment of aggregated SiC4 tetrahedral units; with hydrogen, the C-C interaction is repulsive, leading to enrichment of randomly distributed SiCO3 tetrahedral units. Our results suggest that conflicting experimental characterizations of C distributions may be due to differing amounts of H present in the samples investigated. Our work also opens a path for tailoring the properties of SiOC by using the total H content to control the C distribution.