Using x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy and Rutherford backscattering spectrometry, we have studied structures used in metal–oxide–metal capacitors including Ta2O5/TiN/Ti, Ta2O5/Ti, Ta2O5/TaN/Ti, Ta2O5/WN/Ti, and Ta2O5/M, where M=Ta, Pt, W, Al, and Si. We find that Ti and Al are able to reduce the Ta2O5 to Ta, forming oxides of Ti and Al, respectively. The diffusion barriers TiN, TaN, and WN hamper the diffusion of oxygen and therefore postpone the reduction of Ta2O5 to higher temperatures. As judged by the temperatures at which the reduction of Ta2O5 occurs, TaN and WN are more effective oxygen-diffusion barriers than TiN. We observe no oxygen remaining in the diffusion barrier when a Ti layer is present underneath. We observe no reduction of Ta2O5 when M=Pt, W, or Si. © 1999 American Institute of Physics.