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Micromechanical Voltage Reference Using the Pull-In of a Beam
Edmond Cretu, Member, IEEE, Luis Alexandre Rocha, and Reinoud F. Wolffenbuttel, Senior Member, IEEE
Abstract—The pull-in voltage of a single-side anchored freestanding beam, under lateral deflection, has been investigated for application as a dc voltage reference. Two sets of electrodes, alongside the tip, are used for parallel-plate type of electrostatic actum long beam in the plane of the wafer. Anation of the 200 other set of buried electrodes is aligned with the plate electrode at the free-standing tip and is used as a differential capacitor for the simultaneous detection of the displacement, with the purpose to determine the stability border and thus the pull-in voltage. The single-end clamping ensures that the pull-in voltage is insensitive to technology-induced stresses. A two-dimensional (2–D) energybased analytical model for the static pull-in is compared with measurements. Bifurcation diagrams are computed numerically, based on a local continuation method. Devices have been designed and fabricated in an epi-poly process. Measurements are in agreement with modeling and confirm a pull-in voltage in the 9.1–9.5 V range. Reproducibility is limited by hysteresis and charging of the dielectric layer in between the electrodes. The device can be operated in feedback or as a seesaw, by using the two sets of electrodes. Index Terms—DC voltage reference, microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), pull-in.

I. INTRODUCTION EMS technology is gradually also penetrating into mainstream instrumentation and measurement (I&M) applications [1]–[8]. A critical component in many professional instruments is the internal dc reference. The pull-in voltage of beams of different designs has been investigated with the purpose of using the micromechanical structure as an on-chip voltage reference [6], [8]. Such a device may find application in integrated circuits, next to the conventionally used bandgap reference, and in metrology, where Zener references are widely used as so-called “transfer standard.” The latter application area is especially promising, as the operation of a Zener diode is based on avalanche breakdown and is associated with a high noise level. The electrostatic force in a vertical field is inversely proportional to the square of the deflection and the restoring spring force of the beam is, in a first approximation, linear with deflection. Therefore, an unstable system results in case of a deflecis defined tion beyond a critical value. The pull-in voltage as the voltage that is required to obtain this critical deflection. The basic phenomenon is the loss of stability at the equilibrium


Manuscript received March 1, 2001; revised July 30, 2001. E. Cretu is with the Delft University of Technology, ITS/Et, DIMES, 2628 CD Delft, The Netherlands and also with Melexis, Tessenderloo, Belgium. L. A. Rocha and R. F. Wolffenbuttel are with the Delft University of Technology, ITS/Et, DIMES, 2628 CD Delft, The Netherlands. Publisher Item Identifier S 0018-9456(01)10921-6.

position , where the elastic forces equilibrate the electrostatic ones. Two methodologies are generally used: 1) the dynamic system approach, in which the electromechanical system is described by a set of differential equations, and an analysis of the stability of its equilibrium points is performed (indirect Lyapunov method). 2) the variational approach, in which the equilibrium points and their stability are determined by studying the variations of the total energy . The equiare given by solving the system of librium points ; these are stable if equations is a local minimum, which is determined by the sign of . The pull-in voltage is eigenvalues of the value of the applied voltage for which the physical equilibrium point loses its stability [9]. The potential energy is composed of the elastic mechanical energy , and the electrostatic energy stored in the electric . The elastic energy has two comcomponents ponents: the built-in strain energy component and the bending energy resulting from external applied . forces This second approach is used in the next section for the modeling. So far, the pull-in effect has been mainly investigated for two reasons. The first is to determine the dynamic range limitations of an electrostatic actuator due to pull-in. Basically, pull-in causes the deflection due to electrostatic force to be limited to one-third of the gap between the electrodes, in the case of a motion perpendicular to the capacitor plate orientation [9]. This effect also limits the dynamic range of capacitive accelerometers operating in the feedback mode. The second field of application is in the characterization of the structural material in a surface micromachining process (usually polysilicon) [10]. The residual stress level is an important material property, as it largely determines the load-deflection characteristic in a doublesided clamped structure, in which this stress level cannot be released in an elongation. Generally, a taut beam is desirable, which implies a low tensile stress in the material. Thermal anneal is required to convert the compressive stress in the as-deposited material into such low tensile stress layer [11]. The pull-in voltage of a double-sided clamped structure reduces with compressive stress, due to the dependence on by the strain energy - . Therefore, measurement of the pull-in voltage at given device dimensions is a good indicator for the residual stress in a beam. In this paper, the pull-in voltage is exploited for the realization of a dc voltage reference. For long-term stability, the residual

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CRETU et al. . m. as function of . clamped at one end. 1. The approach used to solve the problem is based on sweeping of the voltage. Single-side clamped structure. 1 and 2). the stability points are computed. m. Therefore. in variable . as shown in Fig. Both approaches ensure II. First. and actuated by an electrostatic momentum at the free end. from the initial value toward increasing positive values. by approximating the general potential in Taylor series around the previously computed equi. For each voltage value. and the state variables ( ) correspond to the equilibrium position determined from 3) The electrostatic energy [taking zero-level energy] is described by as The pull-in voltage can be found analytically by solving the determinant equation A local continuation method was implemented in Mathematica for tracing the equilibrium point coordinates at increasing voltage. For the computed values of ( . denotes librium point . Here. stress should not affect . 1) It is applied to an elastic beam. and m. MODELING THE PULL-IN STRUCTURE As long-term stability is the most important property of the device. analytical modeling was used and the results were subsequently verified using finite element modeling (FEM). The elastic energy is described by Fig.: MICROMECHANICAL VOLTAGE REFERENCE USING PULL-IN OF A BEAM 1505 Fig. the modeling was based on a single-sided clamped beam fabricated using crystalline material. The specifics of the analytical modeling used are as follows. 2. 1. The dimensions are: scribed by: m. a single-side anchored beam with the other end free-standing should be used or the beam should be suspended using folded tethers at each end [12]. 2) The energy balance is evaluated using two parameters ( and ) to fully determine the configuration (Figs. . Thus the built-in strain energy is de. Identification of the state variables used in the model. This the normalized tip deflection makes it possible to trace the evolution of the equilibrium point ).

the eigenvalues of the associated Hessian at that point can be computed.m long free-standing structures with electrode structures at the tip. it yields a polysilicon structural layer. For proper operation as a voltage reference. [14]. After deposition the thick polysilicon layer can be patterned using deep reactive ion etching (DRIE).1506 IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON INSTRUMENTATION AND MEASUREMENT. Microstructures can subsequently be released by selectively etching the underlying dielectric sacrificial layer using the DRIE holes as access channel. therefore. The electrodes beneath the movable structure are used for capacitive detection of the pull-in voltage. was used for the fabrication of 11 . which is near V). 3. 4. The disadvantages of the conventional surface micromachining in this application are twofold. Second. de- . Fabricated microstructure. NO. It is interesting to note that pull-in . with counter electrodes anchored to the substrate. Moreover. Variation between several devices. A fabricated pull-in device is shown in Fig. Surface micromachining processes are very suitable for the fabrication of such free-standing beams on top of a silicon wafer. The first concern remains. First. then the equilibrium point is unstable.m thick single-side clamped 200 . Epitaxial growth at about 700 nm/min can be used to yield polysilicon layers on top of a dielectric layer with a thickness in excess of 10 m. movable electrode equal to The maximum displacement operating range before pull-in occurs is of 36% the 2 . The deflection can be measured using the differential sense capacitor located directly on top of the substrate and aligned with the square-shape electrode at the tip of the beam. Fig. The device is basically a free-standing lateral beam anchored at one end (the base) only. the predicted value from Mathematica model ( This difference is mainly due to the simplifying assumptions used and to process deviations. which is about the same value as in the classic parallel plate case (1/3). the effect should be reproducible. the predicted pull-in voltage from the V and in reasonable agreement analytic model is at with the FEM results. These buried polysilicon electrodes are electrically isolated from the substrate and placed symmetrically on either side of a guard electrode placed directly underneath the axial direction of the undeflected beam. As shown. 5 also indicates a profound quality difference between the devices. EXPERIMENTAL RESULTS The measured pull-in voltage was about 9. the pull-in should be as abrupt as possible. Fig. 50. The complication in the readout is the aF resolution requirement in the presence of pF parasitic capacitors. Clearly. If any of these has a negative value. and uncertainties in the value of the Young’s modulus used in the numerical computation. the 5–10 nm/min deposition rate of the conventional low-pressure chemical vapor deposition (LPCVD) limits the practical layer thickness to about 2 m. 3 presents the results predicted from both analytical modeling and finite element simulations. VOL. which is expected to give an inferior long-term stability compared to crystalline silicon.m wide gap between the electrodes. DECEMBER 2001 Fig. III. The readout circuit is based on a capacitor bridge with two active arms. Finally.1 V. which is equivalent to a deflection of occurs at m. MICROSTRUCTURE FABRICATION A modification on surface micromachining. Part of this research is. Fig. thus solving the second problem. to verify whether the use of polysilicon rather than crystalline material is actually an issue. 6. IV. tolerances in the beam dimensions. Such a process is generally referred to as an epi-poly process [13]. and drawn as a separate line. there are electrically isolated stoppers to limit the lateral motion. Initial results presented in the next section do identify other sources as limiting factors. a so-called epi-poly process. Variation of the equilibrium point with applied voltage (both analytic model and finite element simulation). 4. Fig. The beam can be deflected by electrostatic actuation in the plane of the wafer using a voltage applied across parallel plate capacitors composed of two sets of electrodes located alongside the free-standing tip. 5.

in particular. Actuators A. A. He served as General Chairman of the Dutch National Sensor Conference in 1996 and Eurosensors in 1999. 1995. 197–211. June 25–29.D. “Electrostatically driven vacuum-encap-sulated polysilicon resonators—Part II: Theory and performance. pp. M. S. Delft. Instrum. vol.” in Proc.” IEEE Trans. MME. vol. 1998. in 1995. and W. Minho.CRETU et al.vdivde-it.D. H. V. 2001. French. in 1997. B. [11] P. F. T. . Stockholm. Australia. This property seriously complicates operation in a feedback loop. Seppä. Nguyen. Transducers. C. 836–842. 1 2000. Delft. Experimental result of a selected beam. and K. Since March 2000. “Stability of micromechanical devices for electrical metrology. Sweden. “Internal stress compensation and scaling in ultrasensitive silicon pressure sensors. “Micromechanical systems in electrical metrology. much better results are expected. 50. degree at the Electronic Instrumentation Laboratory. Germany. van Mullem. van Mullem. 2000. Electron Devices. The source of drift has been identified as charging of the (native) oxide of the polysilicon beam [16]. [10] S. Romania. Meas. pp. Cretu. He received the M. “Parasitic charging of dielectric surfaces in capacitive MEMS. and micromachining in silicon and microsystems. 6. Tang.1–A14. Reinoud F. Feb. 440–444. [14] [Online]. Micromech. A. Feb.” IEEE Trans. 38.: MICROMECHANICAL VOLTAGE REFERENCE USING PULL-IN OF A BEAM 1507 Fig. in 1992. Lausanne. 67–84. The origins of these effects require further analysis. He is currently pursuing the Ph. Seppä. vol.. Luis Alexandre Rocha was born in Guimarães. Najafi. [4] G.” IEEE Trans. Symp. Fig.Sc. F. H. Feb. vol. [7] M. D. and A. and R. Weimann. He was a Researcher at the Romanian Academy of Sciences and as an Associate Assistant at the faculty of Electrical Engineering of the Polytechnic University of Bucharest. fabrication compatibility issues. Z.html [15] J. F. Dig. Z.. Stockholm. Sweden. A14.” in Proc. pp. 335–337. and at EPFL. 7. “Bulk-micromachined electrostatic RMS-to-DC converter: Design and fabrication. “Bulk micromachined electrostatic RMS-to-DC converter. pp. Microeng. Cho. Rocha. 1990. at the Laboratory of Electronic Instrumentation of the Delft University of Technology. 1–3. [9] H. Uppsala. vol. and M. Portugal. Apr. Delft. 130–133. Delft. J. Meas. van Drieënhuizen and R. [16] J. REFERENCES [1] Proc.” in Conf. and Ph. Sendai. Xiao.. F. [6] A. Experiments from another group on a metal-silicon electrode combination show a polarity dependent drift [6]. degree at the Electronic Instrumentation Laboratory. [8] E.-C.Sc. Kyynäräinen. 7 indicates that the devices also exhibit hysteresis. Transducers. pp. and R. an Associate Professor. [13] M. 20. 50. at Tohoku University. “Accurate thin-film multijunction thermal converter on a silicon chip. pp. Apr. Actuators A. Wolffenbuttel. Edmond Cretu (S’91–M’99) was born in Bucharest. After coating the silicon with a metal of suitable work function. and R. 2000. 6 shows the response of a selected device and Fig. 71. Tilmans and R. he was an Assistant Professor. Electron Devices. 1995. Between 1986 and 1993. Bartek. He was a Visitor at the University of Michigan. The feasibility has been demonstrated. Sweden. Meas. Microtechnology in Metrology and Metrology in Microsystems. vol. in 1977. Lärmer. Legtenberg. Oja. Elsner. The Netherlands. “Using the pull-in voltage as voltage reference. The Netherlands. 25–32. 1. in 1984 and 1988. he has been with Melexis Belgium. “Laterally driven polysilicon microstructures. 39. pp. G. and H. Klonz and T. 1992.” Sens. 50. CPEM. Wolffenbuttel. degree in electronic engineering from the Polytechnic University of Bucharest in 1989. Delft University of Technology. he has been pursuing the Ph. vol. de Graaf. vol. 701–702. 2001. “Integrated electrostatic RMS-to-DC converter using IC-compatible surface micromachining. Delft University of Technology. Riethmüller. [12] W. 45. 2001. The Netherlands. Hietschold. Hysteresis in a pull-in microstructure. vol. in 1965. 1989.” J. June 25–29. J. Münzel. Wise. S. 2001.” in Proc. Seppä. “Development of surface micromachining technologies compatible with on-chip electronics. Wibbeler. vice #1 performs much better with respect to both requirements. pp. This is not acceptable in I&M applications. Bartek. Kyynäräinen. Lampola. F. where he graduated in 2000. Munich. C. Instrum. respectively. Sydney. Wolffenbuttel was the recipient of a 1997 NWO pioneer award. CONCLUSIONS The design and fabrication of a pull-in microstructure for application in metrology has been described in this paper. Aug. Oja. Wolffenbuttel (S’86–M’88–SM’97) received the M. Offenberg. Oja. Oct. 1999. vol. pp. In 1995. J. [15].. Ann Arbor. June 10–14. Xiao. vol. Switzerland. where he is involved in the development of gyroscopes. 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First prototypes suffer from limited reproducibility and hysteresis. and 2001. pp. H.