This article focuses on the influence of chemical driving forces on the mixing and phase formation taking place at the interface of highly reactive metal/semiconductor systems under ion-beam irradiation. Ta/Si bilayers were irradiated with Ar, Kr, and Xe ions to fluences of (formula presented) and at temperatures between liquid nitrogen and 400 °C. The interface mixing and silicide formation were monitored as function of the ion mass and fluence by means of Rutherford backscattering spectrometry and x-ray diffraction. The interface broadening variance was found to depend linearly on the ion fluence and was explained with the help of a compound formation model involving local or global thermal spikes. The results are compared with those found in other silicide and germanide systems. The transition from local to global spikes was found to occur at the critical deposited damage energy of about 2.5 keV/nm. © 2001 The American Physical Society.