• silicon nanowires;
  • silicon thin films;
  • artifacts;
  • twinning

Odd electron diffraction patterns (EDPs) have been obtained by transmission electron microscopy (TEM) on silicon nanowires grown via the vapour–liquid–solid method and on silicon thin films deposited by electron beam evaporation. Many explanations have been given in the past, without consensus among the scientific community: size artifacts, twinning artifacts or, more widely accepted, the existence of new hexagonal Si phases. In order to resolve this issue, the microstructures of Si nanowires and Si thin films have been characterized by TEM, high-resolution transmission electron microscopy (HRTEM) and high-resolution scanning transmission electron microscopy. Despite the differences in the geometries and elaboration processes, the EDPs of the materials show great similarities. The different hypotheses reported in the literature have been investigated. It was found that the positions of the diffraction spots in the EDPs could be reproduced by simulating a hexagonal structure with c/a = 12(2/3)1/2, but the intensities in many EDPs remained unexplained. Finally, it was established that all the experimental data, i.e. EDPs and HRTEM images, agree with a classical cubic silicon structure containing two microstructural defects: (i) overlapping Σ3 microtwins which induce extra spots by double diffraction, and (ii) nanotwins which induce extra spots as a result of streaking effects. It is concluded that there is no hexagonal phase in the Si nanowires and the Si thin films presented in this work.