MEMS Piezoresistive Micro-Cantilever Arrays for Sensing Applications

Adami, Andrea (2010) MEMS Piezoresistive Micro-Cantilever Arrays for Sensing Applications. PhD thesis, University of Trento.

PDF - Doctoral Thesis


In several application fields there is an increasing need for a diffused on-field control of parameters able to diagnosis potential risks or problems in advance or in early stages in order to reduce their impact. The timely recognition of specific parameters is often the key for a tighter control on production processes, for instance in food industry, or in the development of dangerous events such as pollution or the onset of diseases in humans. Diffused monitoring can be hardly performed with traditional instrumentation in specialised laboratories, due to the time required for sample collection and analysis. In all applications, one of the key-points for a successful solution of the problem is the availability of detectors with high-sensitivity and selectivity to the chemical or biochemical parameters of interest. Moreover, an increased diffused on-field control of parameters can be only achieved by replacing the traditional costly laboratory instrumentations with a larger number of low cost devices. In order to compete with well-known and established solution, one of main feature of new systems is the capability to perform specific tests on the field with fast response times; in this perspective, a fast measurement of reduced number of parameters is to be preferred to a straightforward “clone” of laboratory instrumentation. Moreover, the detector must also provide robustness and reliability for real-world applications, with low costs and easiness of use. In this paradigm, MEMS technologies are emerging as realisation of miniaturised and portable instrumentation for agro-food, biomedical and material science applications with high sensitivity and low cost. In fact, MEMS technologies can allow a reduction of the manufacturing cost of detectors, by taking advantage of the parallel manufacturing of large number of devices at the same time; furthermore, MEMS devices can be potentially expanded to systems with high level of measurement parallelism. Device costs are also a key issues when devices must be for “single use”, which is a must in application where cross-contamination between different measurement is a major cause of system failure and may cause severe consequences, such as in biomedical application. Among different options, cantilever micro-mechanical structures are one of the most promising technical solution for the realisation of MEMS detectors with high sensitivity. This thesis deals with the development of cantilever-based sensor arrays for chemical and biological sensing and material characterisation. In addiction to favourable sensing properties of single devices, an array configuration can be easily implemented with MEMS technologies, allowing the detection of multiple species at the same time, as well as the implementation of reference sensors to reject both physical and chemical interfering signals. In order to provide the capability to operate in the field, solution providing simple system integration and high robustness of readout have been preferred, even at the price of a lower sensitivity with respect to other possibilities requiring more complex setups. In particular, piezoresistive readout has been considered as the best trade-off between sensitivity and system complexity, due to the easy implementation of readout systems for resistive sensors and to their high potential for integration with standard CMOS technologies. The choice has been performed after an analysis of mechanical and sensing properties of microcantilever, also depending of technological options for their realisation. As case-studies for the development of cantilever devices, different approaches have been selected for gas sensing applications, DNA hybridisation sensing and material characterisation, based on two different technologies developed at the BioMEMS research unit of FBK (Fondazione Bruno Kessler - Center for Materials and Microsystems, Trento). The first process, based on wet-etching bulk micromachining techniques, has provided 10 µm-thick silicon microcantilevers while the second technology, based on Silicon-On-Insulator (SOI) wafer, has provided a reduction of device thickness, thus resulting in an increase of sensitivity. Performances of devices has been investigated by analytical and numerical modelling of both structures and readout elements, in order to optimise both fabrication technology and design. In particular, optimal implant parameters for the realisation of piezoresistors have been evaluated with process simulation with Athena Silvaco simulation software, while ANSYS has been used to analyse the best design for devices and the effect of some technology-related issues, such as the effect of underetch during the release of the beams or residual stresses. Static and modal analysis of cantilever bending in different conditions have been performed, in order to evaluate the mechanical performances of the device, and later results have been compared with the experimental characterisation. With regard to gas sensing applications, the development has been oriented to resonant sensors, where the adsorption of analytes on a adsorbent layer deposited on the cantilever leads to shift of resonance frequency of the structure, thus providing a gravimetric detection of analytes. The detection of amines, as markers of fish spoilage during transport, has been selected as a case-study for the analysis of these sensors. The sensitivity of devices has been measured, with results compatible with the models. Cantilever structures are also suitable for bioaffinity-based applications or genomic tests, such as the detection of specific Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs) that can be used to analyse the predisposition of individuals to genetic-based diseases. In this case, measurements are usually performed in liquid phase, where viscous damping of structures results in a severe reduction of resonance quality factor, which is a key-parameter for the device detection limit. Then, cantilever working in “bending mode” are usually preferred for these applications. In this thesis, the design and technologies have been optimised for this approach, which has different requirements with respect to resonant detectors. In fact, the interaction of target analytes with properly functionalised surfaces results in a bending of the cantilever device, which is usually explained by a number of mechanism ranging from electrostatic and steric interaction of molecules to energy-based considerations. In the case of DNA hybridisation detection, the complexity of the molecule interactions and solid-liquid interfaces leads to a number of different phenomena concurring in the overall response. Main parameters involved in the cantilever bending during DNA hybridisation has been studied on the basis of physical explanations available in the literature, in order to identify the key issues for an efficient detection. Microcantilever devices can play a role also in thin film technologies, where residual stresses and material properties in general need to be accurately measured. Since cantilever sensors are highly sensitive to stress, their use is straightforward for this application. Moreover, apart from their sensitivity, they also have other advantages on other methods for stress measurements, such as the possibility to perform on-line measurements during the film deposition in an array configuration, which can be useful for combinatorial approaches for the development of thin film materials libraries. In collaboration with the Plasma Advanced Materials (PAM) group of the Bruno Kessler Foundation, the properties of TiO2 films deposited by sputtering has been measured as a case study for these applications. In addiction to residual stress, a method for measuring the Young’s modulus of the deposited films has been developed, based on the measurement by means of a stylus profilometer of beam stiffness increase due to TiO2 film. The optimal data analysis procedure has been evaluated in order to increase the efficiency of the measurement. In conclusion, this work has provided the development of MEMS-based microcantilever devices for a range of different applications by evaluating the technological solutions for their realisation, the optimisation of design and testing of realised devices. The results validate the use of this class of devices in applications where high sensitivity detectors are required for portable analysis systems.

Item Type:Doctoral Thesis (PhD)
Doctoral School:Information and Communication Technology
PhD Cycle:XXII
Subjects:Area 09 - Ingegneria industriale e dell'informazione > ING-INF/07 MISURE ELETTRICHE E ELETTRONICHE
Area 09 - Ingegneria industriale e dell'informazione > ING-INF/01 ELETTRONICA
Uncontrolled Keywords:Microcantilever sensors, MEMS technologies, gas sensors, DNA detectors, materials characterisation
Additional Information:This work has been developed at the Fondazione Bruno Kessler (FBK) in Trento, and in particular in collaboration with the BioMEMS Research Unit, under the supervision of Dr. Leandro Lorenzelli. All the devices presented in this work have been fabricated by the BioMEMS group, and in particular by Massimiliano Decarli, using the FBK’s clean room facilities. This work has been partially funded by the European projects “GOODFOOD” (FP6-IST-1-508744-IP) and “POCEMON” (Point-Of-Care MONitoring and Diagnostics for Autoimmune Diseases, FP7-ICT-2007-216088), respectively dealing with the development of cantilever sensors for gas sensing and biosensors. Cantilever-based gas sensors were based on sensitive materials deposited by the University of Valladolid and tested in collaboration with the BioMEMS group and the N.S. Kournakov Institute of Common and Inorganic Chemistry RAS in Moscow (Russia). Actuation and readout electronics were developed by Mattia Malfatti of the Sistemi Ottici Integrati (SOI) Research Unit of the FBK. The development of devices and methods for material characterisation has been funded by the Provincia Autonoma di Trento in the framework of the MICROCOMBI Project. This activity has been carried out in collaboration with the Plasma Advanced Materials Research Unit of FBK, and in particular with Ruben Bartali and Nadhira Bensaada Laidani for the part related to TiO2 deposition and crystallographic characterization.
Repository Staff approval on:28 Apr 2010 11:45

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