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**4, AUGUST 2008 809
**

Polymeric Thermal Microactuator With Embedded

Silicon Skeleton: Part I—Design and Analysis

Gih-Keong Lau, Johannes F. L. Goosen, Fred van Keulen, Trinh Chu Duc, and Pasqualina M. Sarro, Fellow, IEEE

Abstract—This paper presents the modeling of a new design

of a polymeric thermal microactuator with an embedded mean-

der-shaped silicon skeleton. The design has a skeleton embedded

in a polymer block. The embedded skeleton improves heat trans-

fer to the polymer and reinforces it. In addition, the skeleton

laterally constrains the polymer to direct the volumetric thermal

expansion of the polymer in the actuation direction. The complex

geometry and multiple-material composition of the actuator make

its modeling very involved. In this paper, the main focus is on

the development of approximate electrothermal and thermoelastic

models to capture the essence of the actuator behavior. The ap-

proximate models are validated with a fully coupled multiphysics

ﬁnite element model and with experimental testing. The approxi-

mate models can be useful as an inexpensive tool for subsequent

design optimization. Evaluation, using the analytical and numer-

ical models, shows that the polymer actuator with the embedded

skeleton outperforms its counterpart without a skeleton, which is

in terms of heat transfer and, thus, response time, actuation stress,

and planarity. [2007-0193]

Index Terms—Artiﬁcial muscle, microelectromechanical sys-

tems (MEMS), multiphysics modeling, polymer actuators, thermal

actuators.

I. BACKGROUND

T

HERMAL actuation has advantages over other types of

microactuation. It features compactness, a high force, a

large displacement, and a low driving voltage [1]–[4]. It has

a wide range of applications for both out-of-plane and in-

plane motions. For example, out-of-plane thermal actuation is

useful for driving ciliary conveyors [1] and optical scanners [5],

Manuscript received July 31, 2007; revised April 9, 2008. First published

June 13, 2008; last published August 1, 2008 (projected). This work was

supported in part by the Delft Center of Mechatronics and Microsystems

(DCMM) and in part by the Dutch MicroNed program. Subject Editor

S. Spearing.

G.-K. Lau was with the Department of Precision and Microsystems Engi-

neering, Delft University of Technology, 2628 CN Delft, The Netherlands. He

is now with the School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Nanyang

Technological University, Singapore 639798 (e-mail: mgklau@ntu.edu.sg).

J. F. L. Goosen and F. van Keulen are with the Department of Preci-

sion and Microsystems Engineering under the Faculty of Mechanical, Mar-

itimes, and Materials Engineering, Delft University of Technology, 2628 Delft,

The Netherlands.

T. Chu Duc was with the Laboratory of Electronic Components, Technology

and Materials, Delft Institute of Microelectronics and Submicron Technology,

Delft University of Technology, 2600 GB Delft, The Netherlands. He is

now with the Electronics and Communications Faculty, College Technology,

Vietnam National University, Hanoi, Vietnam.

P. M. Sarro is with the Laboratory of Electronic Components, Technology,

and Materials, Delft Institute of Microelectronics and Submicron Technology,

Delft University of Technology, 2600 GB Delft, The Netherlands.

Color versions of one or more of the ﬁgures in this paper are available online

at http://ieeexplore.ieee.org.

Digital Object Identiﬁer 10.1109/JMEMS.2008.924842

whereas in-plane thermal actuation is applied to align ﬁbers [6],

to drive optical attenuators [7], and to drive microgrippers [8].

Besides driving functional microdevices, the in-plane linear

thermal actuation is also an indispensable element for an in situ

microscopic material tester with the integrated load sensing. For

example, arrays of V-shaped actuators are used for loading a

string of carbon nanotubes during tensile tests [9].

The performance of thermal actuation depends, to a large

extent, on the expansion materials [3]. Many thermal actuators

are made of silicon or metals. However, silicon and metals

have relatively low coefﬁcients of thermal expansion (CTE)

but high thermal conductivities [10]–[12]. Consequently, they

are not effective in electromechanical conversion. Polymers are

known to have high CTE [3], [13]. There is increasing interest

in using themas expansion materials. For example, large out-of-

plane actuation is reported by using metallic-coated polymeric

bilayers [1]; in-plane actuation using metallic-coated U-shaped

polymers is reported in [14]. However, polymer materials are

electrical and thermal insulators. A thick polymeric layer re-

sponds slowly to heat changes and thus leads to slow response

times. In addition, a thick polymeric layer is susceptible to

internal stress gradients due to fabrication, thermal gradients

across the thickness during resistive heating, or CTE mis-

matches between the polymeric and metallic heating layers.

These subject the thick polymer layer to unintended out-of-

plane bending. Moreover, polymeric thermal actuators have low

stiffness when compared with their silicon or metallic coun-

terparts. Therefore, the existing designs of polymeric thermal

actuators are not ideal for in-plane actuation.

II. ACTUATOR DESIGN

A novel design of a polymeric thermal microactuator is

proposed to address the issues mentioned earlier. The actuator

design was brieﬂy described in a letter [15], and its working

principle has been disclosed in a Dutch patent application [16].

Its conceptual layout is shown in Fig. 1. In this paper, we will

analyze the design in more detail (see Fig. 1).

The design embeds a silicon skeleton in a polymer block of

SU-8. The skeleton is meandered in shape, having many folds

along the longitudinal (y) axis and being symmetric about the

central axis. Each fold of the meandered skeleton consists of

two platelike segments (parallel to the x-axis) and a single

horseshoe bend that connects the two segments. The trenches

of the skeleton (i.e., the spacing between the segments) are

ﬁlled with the polymer, which makes contact with the vertical

skeleton sidewalls (along the z axis). The polymer is thermally

expandable; however, it is thermally and electrically insulating.

1057-7157/$25.00 © 2008 IEEE

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810 JOURNAL OF MICROELECTROMECHANICAL SYSTEMS, VOL. 17, NO. 4, AUGUST 2008

Fig. 1. Illustration of a thermal actuator design, consisting of a polymeric

expander (SU-8 epoxy), a meander-shaped skeleton (Si), and a thin-ﬁlm heater

(Al); the actuator is suspended in an air cavity with its root anchored to a silicon

substrate.

An aluminum ﬁlm is deposited on top of the skeleton to enable

resistive heating.

The actuator is anchored to the substrate at its root. When

the aluminum heater is electrically activated, heat is generated

and transferred through the skeleton to the polymer ﬁlling. The

heated polymeric ﬁlling expands and widens the spacing in each

fold of the meandering microstructure [15]. This causes the tip

of the actuator to longitudinally move forward.

The three materials are selected based on the thermophysical

properties desired for their respective roles and because they

can be readily microstructured and combined. The embedded

skeleton improves the performance of the polymer actuator in

several aspects. First, the silicon skeleton with a high thermal

conductivity improves the heat transfer to the polymer with a

low thermal conductivity. Second, the skeleton reinforces the

polymer expander and directs the volumetric expansion of the

polymer in the actuation direction [17], [18].

III. MOTIVATION AND SCOPE

The present actuator design consists of multiple materials.

It has an intricate and complex geometry. It shows complex

multiphysics behavior in response to multiple stimuli (namely,

electrical, mechanical, and thermal). Therefore, its numerical

modeling is involved. However, a simple analytical modeling is

very much needed to help in designing the actuator. The ana-

lytical model could potentially reveal the relationships between

design parameters and the actuator performance.

In the subsequent section, we will develop approximate

analytical models for the actuator at steady state based on

geometrical simpliﬁcation and property averaging. We divide

the coupled electrothermal–mechanical problem into two ap-

proximately decoupled problems, namely, an electrothermal

and a thermoelastic problem. First, the electrothermal problem

is solved by using a 1-D line model constructed by unfolding

the meandered heat conduction path. Second, the thermoelastic

behavior of the actuator will be approximated by using the

constrained thermal expansion of a polymeric layer that is

perfectly bonded between two rigid interfaces.

Subsequently, the approximate analytical models will be val-

idated with ﬁnite-element modeling (FEM) and experimental

Fig. 2. One-dimensional electrothermal line model obtained by straightening

the meandering heat conducting path and applying appropriate boundary con-

ditions (see Tables I and II for symbol deﬁnition).

characterization. In addition, we will evaluate the performance

of the present polymeric actuator design and show the advan-

tages of embedding the skeleton in the design in comparison

with a design without skeleton. In addition, the effect of the

aspect ratio of a perfectly bonded polymeric layer on the

effective CTE will be studied.

IV. ELECTROTHERMAL ANALYSIS

In the present actuator design, the skeleton material typi-

cally possesses a high thermal conductivity (k), for example,

silicon with k = 148 W/(mK) [10]. However, the polymer ex-

pander has a low thermal conductivity, for example, SU-8 with

k = 0.2 W/(mK) [13]. The skeleton allows for a relatively

fast heat transfer to the polymer expander ﬁlled in the narrow

trenches between the skeleton. Hence, it becomes a primary

path for heat conduction. In addition, heat conduction across

its height is faster than that along its length because of a larger

length. Consequently, the thermal characteristics of the actuator

design are mainly determined by the length. These observations

enable us to develop a simpliﬁed electrothermal model for the

actuator. The model is presented in the following.

A. One-Dimensional Line Model

A 1-D line model is formulated to capture the thermal

behavior of the actuator by unfolding the meandering path of

heat conduction into a straight line. The model is shown in

Figs. 2 and 3, and the symbols used in the ﬁgures are deﬁned in

Tables I and II. The 1-D line model consists of a silicon plate,

polymer cladding on two sides, and a thin-ﬁlmaluminum heater

on top of the plate. The temperature distribution is nonuniform

along the line, as a result of heat transfer. The line model is

uniformly imposed, with an equivalent heat convection.

The line model is based on the assumption that the heat con-

duction is predominantly along the skeleton and the heat con-

duction across the polymeric ﬁlling in between two neighboring

segments of the meandered skeleton can be ignored. In addition,

the polymeric ﬁlling is assumed to have perfect thermal contact

with the silicon skeleton and an instantaneous temperature

change in response to the temperature of the adjacent skeleton

segment. The equivalent heat convection is calculated on the

basis of the total convection around the exposed surfaces of the

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LAU et al.: POLYMERIC THERMAL MICROACTUATOR WITH EMBEDDED SILICON SKELETON I 811

Fig. 3. Representative segment of the line model. (a) Material components.

(b) Electric current ﬂow across the cross section. (c) Resistive heat generation

and sectional heat transfer. (d) Heat transfer along the composite conduction

paths (see Tables I and II for symbol deﬁnitions).

TABLE I

SYMBOL DEFINITION FOR GEOMETRY IN FIGS. 2–4

actuator but not the internal surfaces, which become virtually

exposed due to the virtual unfolding.

Validity of the line model depends, to a large extent, on the

heat transfer across the polymer ﬁlling between the neighboring

segments of the embedded skeleton. The model is basically

valid for the design with a symmetric skeleton where there is

no signiﬁcant temperature difference between the neighboring

segments, for example, the neighboring segments across a fold

or the neighboring folds across the centerline of symmetry.

However, the model does not hold for a design with an asym-

metric skeleton. For example, in a bending actuator with an

embedded asymmetric skeleton, the heat transfer takes place

across the polymeric ﬁlling between a straight and a meandered

segment of the asymmetric skeleton [18]. This results in an

asymmetric temperature proﬁle, which cannot be predicted by

the present line model.

TABLE II

SYMBOL DEFINITION FOR VARIABLES IN FIGS. 2–4

Fig. 4. Relationship of an effective perimeter P for the line model to the real

perimeter P

0

for the entire actuator (see Tables I and II for symbol deﬁnition).

B. Governing Equation

Steady-state thermal equilibrium across an inﬁnitesimal seg-

ment (see Fig. 3) leads to a nonlinear ordinary differential

equation (ODE) of temperature (T)

k(T)A

d

2

T

dx

2

dx −h(T)P(T −T

∞

)dx +I

2

1

dR

1

(T)

dx

dx = 0

(1)

in which the composite geometry and properties for the line

model are subsequently deﬁned. The line composite has a

sectional area, which is the sum of its components; thus,

A = A

1

+A

2

+A

3

. With reference to Fig. 4, an equivalent

perimeter P is related to the actuator perimeter P

0

such that

P = (P

0

L

0

+A

0

)/L. The thermophysical properties of the

composite are temperature dependent, and they can be related to

the component properties. For example, the composite thermal

conductivity is k = (k

1

A

1

+k

2

A

2

+k

3

A

3

)A

−1

. The heater

resistance R

1

is related to the heater resistivity ρ

0

at the ini-

tial temperature T

0

such that dR

1

/dx = ρ

0

[1 +β(T −T

0

)]/A,

where β is the temperature coefﬁcient of resistivity (TCR) [19].

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812 JOURNAL OF MICROELECTROMECHANICAL SYSTEMS, VOL. 17, NO. 4, AUGUST 2008

Electric current ﬂowing through the heater under a driving

voltage V is I

1

= A

1

V/(ρ

1

L). The heat transfer coefﬁcient

through air (h) is deﬁned in a subsequent section. For a

complete derivation of the composite properties, the readers are

referred to [20].

Typically, the initial temperature is equal to room temper-

ature such that T

0

= T

∞

. The substitution of the effective

perimeter, electric current, and resistance into (1) leads to a

simple form of ODE

d

2

T

dx

2

−m

2

(T −T

0

) +n

2

= 0 (2)

in which

m

2

=

h(T)P

k(T)A

n

2

=

1

kρ

1

(T)

_

A

1

A

__

V

L

_

2

.

Boundary conditions are imposed such that the temperatures

at the two ends, i.e., at x = 0 and x = L, are equal to T

0

.

The coefﬁcients m

2

and n

2

are temperature dependent.

Consequently, the ODE is nonlinear and has no simple and

exact solution. The nonlinear ODE can be solved as a boundary

value problem using numerical methods. For example, it can

be solved by using the Simpson method [21] (i.e., the bvp4c

subroutine of MATLAB by recasting the ODE into a state-

space form).

C. Solution for Linearized Equation

As already mentioned, the exact solution to the nonlinear

governing equation is not readily available [22]. However, a

closed-form solution is desired to provide insight into the inﬂu-

ence of design parameters on the electrothermal response. For

this reason, the nonlinear governing equation is linearized and

solved by using several assumptions. First, the change in the

electric resistance is assumed to be small so that its inverse can

be approximated by using a linear approximation. Second, the

heat convection coefﬁcient of air is assumed to be independent

of temperature and equal to the value at the initial temperature,

i.e., h = h

0

. Finally, the thermal conductivity of the composite

is assumed to be independent of temperature and equal to the

value at the initial temperature, i.e., k = k

0

. Linearizing (2)

yields

d

2

θ

dx

2

−m

2

0

θ = 0 (3)

with

m

2

0

=

h

0

P

k

0

A

+βn

2

0

n

2

0

=

1

k

0

ρ

0

_

A

1

A

__

V

L

_

2

η =

n

2

0

m

2

0

θ =(T −T

0

−η).

Imposing the boundary conditions mentioned after (2), the

solution to the linear ODE becomes

θ(x) = η

_

cosh m

0

L −1

sinh m

0

L

_

sinh m

0

x −η cosh m

0

x. (4)

The solution exhibits a maximum

θ(x

∗

) = η

_

cosh m

0

L −1

sinh m

0

L

_

sinh

m

0

L

2

−η cosh

m

0

L

2

(5)

for

x

∗

=

1

m

0

tanh

−1

_

cosh m

0

L −1

sinh m

0

L

_

≈

L

2

. (6)

In turn, the maximum temperature T

max

becomes

T

max

= T

0

+η +θ(x

∗

)

whereas the average temperature T

avg

along the heater with

length L is

T

avg

= T

0

+η +

η

Lm

0

_

(cosh m

0

L −1)

2

sinh m

0

L

−sinh m

0

L

_

.

(7)

Thus, the electric resistance for the entire aluminum thin-ﬁlm

heater can be estimated with

R =

ρ

0

L

A

1

[1 +β(T

avg

−T

0

)] . (8)

This equation relates the average temperature rise to the change

in the resistance, which can be experimentally measured.

V. THERMOMECHANICAL ANALYSIS

In the present design conﬁguration, the polymeric expander

is conﬁned in the meandered skeleton. The skeleton’s sidewalls

restrain the polymer expansion laterally, but allowit more freely

in a transverse direction. Meanwhile, horseshoe bends of the

skeleton suppress the transverse deformation but to a smaller

extent at a large skeleton width. In the case of a large width, the

polymer actuator with the meander-shaped skeleton resembles

a stack of skeleton and polymeric layers (see Fig. 5). Therefore,

the former can be modeled by the later in approximating the tip

displacement. The geometry similarity allows for a simpliﬁed

analysis using a polymeric layer that is perfectly bonded be-

tween two rigid interfaces.

A. Polymeric Layer That Is Perfectly Bonded Between

Rigid Interfaces

Consider a polymeric layer that is perfectly bonded between

two rigid interfaces [see Figs. 5 and 6(a)]. It has a width w

and a thickness t, with an aspect ratio r = w/t. No lateral

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LAU et al.: POLYMERIC THERMAL MICROACTUATOR WITH EMBEDDED SILICON SKELETON I 813

Fig. 5. Thermoelastic models of polymeric composite with embedded silicon

microstructures. (a) Large-width meandering silicon microstructure, resem-

bling an array of parallel silicon plates. (b) Constrained thermal expansion of

the polymeric layer sandwiched between the silicon layers.

Fig. 6. Deformed shapes of ﬁnite element meshes (illustrative and not in exact

dimensions and mesh division). (a) Model #1. (b) Model #2. (c) Model #3

(see Table III for detailed description).

displacement is allowed at the bonded interfaces. However,

there is lateral bulging at the midplane when the bonded layer

thermally expands.

The assumption of rigid interfaces is based on the fact that

silicon plates, at the same thickness as the SU-8 ﬁlling, are

approximately 40 times stiffer and expands 60 times less than

the SU-8 ﬁlling. On the other hand, the polymeric layer is

assumed to have an inﬁnite height (i.e., the plane-strain condi-

tion) and linear isotropic elastic properties. It is assumed to un-

dergo small thermoelastic strains. Furthermore, two kinematic

assumptions are made for the bonded polymeric layer, namely,

that lateral planes remain plane and that the transverse lines

become parabolic. These kinematic assumptions are similar

with those imposed on a compressed elastic layer that is under

transverse pressure [23], [24].

The detailed derivation of the approximate solution is beyond

the scope of this paper and will be elaborated elsewhere [25].

Here, only the solution to the 2-D thermoelastic model is

presented. An apparent CTE (α

⊥

p

) for the bonded polymeric

layer in the transverse direction (⊥, i.e., along the y-axis) is

α

⊥

p

=

_

1 +υ

1 −υ

_

f(r)α

p

(9)

with

f(r) =

1 −

_

υ

1−υ

_

tanh(r)

r

1 −

_

υ

1−υ

_

2 tanh(r)

r

r =

w

t

¸

3

2

_

1 −2υ

1 −υ

_

where υ and α

p

are the Poisson’s ratio and linear CTE of the

intrinsic polymer, respectively.

The magnitude of the lateral bulging depends on the aspect

ratio (r). The lateral bulging is large at a small aspect ratio, but

it is suppressed at a large aspect ratio. This means that, for a

fully bonded layer at a large (r), lateral constraint dominates

and contributes to a higher transverse thermal expansion.

In the limiting case of inﬁnite width, the function f(r) ap-

proaches one, and the apparent transverse CTE becomes greater

than the free linear thermal expansion (i.e., α

⊥

p

> α

p

). This

limiting solution obtained by the 2-D model agrees with that

obtained by a biaxial model [17]. The enhanced transverse CTE

conﬁrms that the conﬁnement effect is beneﬁcial to thermal

actuation, which is contrary to the strain suppression in the

conﬁned dielectric elastomer [26].

B. Effective Thermal Expansion for a Composite Stack

For a stack of bonded silicon and polymer layers (see Fig. 5),

an effective transverse CTE (α

c

) reads according to the law of

mixtures

α

c

= φα

⊥

p

+ (1 −φ)α

s

(10)

in which φ is the volume fraction of polymer and the latter is

related to geometry parameters such that φ = t/(t +t

0

). On the

other hand, α

s

is the CTE of the silicon layer.

The polymeric component in the stack contributes most to

the apparent thermal expansion, whereas the silicon skeleton

component contributes very little. Therefore, using (9), the

effective CTE is further reduced to

α

c

≈ φα

⊥

p

= φ

_

1 +υ

1 −υ

_

f(r)α

p

. (11)

This equation shows that the composite CTE depends on the

aspect ratio and volume fraction of the bonded polymeric layer.

When subjected to a temperature rise to T

avg

, the stack of

length L

0

expands longitudinally at a tip displacement ∆L

0

of

∆L

0

≈ L

0

(T

avg

−T

0

)α

c

. (12)

This solution for a stack provides a simple approximation to

the tip displacement for the polymeric actuator with embedded

meandered skeleton.

VI. FINITE-ELEMENT ANALYSIS

The ﬁnite-element software ANSYS is used to simulate

the performance of the proposed actuator design and to ver-

ify the theoretical models. Two sets of simulation are con-

ducted, namely, the thermoelastic response under a uniform

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814 JOURNAL OF MICROELECTROMECHANICAL SYSTEMS, VOL. 17, NO. 4, AUGUST 2008

TABLE III

DETAILS OF FEM

TABLE IV

GEOMETRY PARAMETERS FOR MODELS #2 AND #3

temperature rise and the electrothermal–mechanical response

under steady-state resistive heating. The ﬁnite element models

for thermal–elastic simulation consist of structural elements,

which are either the 2-D plane-strain elements (PLANE42) or

the 3-D element (SOLID45). The models for electrothermal–

mechanical simulation consists of the 3-D coupled-ﬁeld ele-

ments (SOLID5).

A. Geometries

Three geometries are considered (see Fig. 6). The boundary

and loading conditions imposed on the three models are sum-

marized in Table III. The geometry parameters for the models

are listed in Table IV.

The ﬁrst geometry model (#1) is a 2-D polymeric layer that

is perfectly bonded between two rigid interfaces [see Fig. 6(a)].

This model has the same geometry and boundary conditions

as those used to derive (11). It serves to predict the apparent

transverse CTE of the bonded layer under uniform heating. The

second geometry model (#2) is a 3-D polymer actuator design

embedded with a symmetrically meandered silicon skeleton

and an aluminum thin-ﬁlm heater [see Fig. 6(b)]. It could

predict the responses of the present actuator design under both

uniform and resistive heating. The third geometry model (#3)

is a 3-D polymeric block with an aluminum thin-ﬁlm heater on

the top [see Fig. 6(c)]. It does not have the embedded silicon

TABLE V

MATERIAL PROPERTIES OF SOLIDS AT 300 K

TABLE VI

TEMPERATURE-DEPENDENT THERMAL CONDUCTIVITY OF SOLIDS [12]

skeleton but serves as a reference design for comparison with

Model #2.

B. Material Properties

The success in the modeling depends, to a large extent, on

the accurate data of material properties. This is particularly

true for the electrothermal modeling, considering that material

properties change with temperature. For example, electric resis-

tivity, the thermal conduction of solids, and thermal convection

through air are all temperature dependent. The material prop-

erties used in the present models are summarized in Table V.

They are based on the data available in the literature [10]–[13].

As shown in Table VI [12], the thermal conductivity of sili-

con decreases at a diminishing rate with temperature, whereas

that of aluminum slightly changes over the operating tem-

perature range. The thermal conductivity of SU-8 epoxy is

not directly available. It is therefore taken to be identical to

that reported for other types of epoxies [27]–[29]. According

to Cahill and Pohl [27], the thermal conductivity for epoxy

increases as a function of absolute temperature at a decreasing

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LAU et al.: POLYMERIC THERMAL MICROACTUATOR WITH EMBEDDED SILICON SKELETON I 815

TABLE VII

TEMPERATURE-DEPENDENT PROPERTIES OF AIR [33]

rate; it approaches to a constant at temperatures that are above

300 K. For example, the reported thermal conductivities for

EPON 862 [28] and Araldite epoxy resin [29] are around

0.2 W/(mK) at temperatures that are equal or above 300 K.

The thermophysical properties of air are also important in

the modeling. They are strongly dependent on temperature

(see Table VII). They affect the heat dissipation through air.

At the operating temperature range, the contribution of heat

radiation is insigniﬁcant as compared with heat conduction

and convection [19]. The heat conduction through air (h

cond

)

is given as h

cond

= k

air

/g

z

, where k

air

denotes the thermal

conductivity of air and g

z

denotes the air gap beneath the

actuator [30]. On the other hand, the heat convection through

air (h

conv

) depends on various thermophysical properties and

an effective diameter. It can be estimated by using a dimen-

sionless correlation formula [31] for a horizontal cylinder with

diameter D

Nu

D

=

_

0.60 +

0.387Ra

1/6

D

[1 + (0.059/ Pr)

9/16

]

8/27

_

2

(13)

where Ra

D

≤ 10

12

. The dimensionless variables are deﬁned

as follows [32]. The Rayleigh number is Ra

D

= gγ(T

s

−

T

∞

)D

3

/(νκ), the Nusselt number is Nu

D

= h

conv

D/k

air

,

and the Prandtl number is Pr = ν/κ. The other symbols in

the aforementioned equations are deﬁned in Table VII [33].

The effective diameter D used in the estimation is derived

from the cross-sectional area A

0

and perimeter P

0

of the

actuator block (see Fig. 3), such that D = 4A

0

/P

0

.

In short, the total heat transfer coefﬁcient h through air is the

sum of convective and conduction terms, as follows:

h = h

cond

+h

conv

. (14)

Other thermoelastic properties are assumed to be temperature

independent. These properties include the Young’s modulus,

Poisson’s ratio, and thermal expansion coefﬁcients. The ther-

moelastic properties of silicon and aluminum at a constant tem-

perature are obtained from the literature [11]. The thermoelastic

properties of SU-8 epoxy are reported with a large variation in

the literature, as they depend on processing parameters, testing

Fig. 7. Scanning electron micrograph of a sample device with a symmetrically

meandered silicon skeleton (60 µm wide).

methods, and sample geometry [13]. For example, a stretched

polymeric thin ﬁlm manifests a CTE different from that for a

conﬁned sample in a close cylinder; even for the same thin-

ﬁlm sample, the in-plane CTE is different from the out-of-

plane CTE [13]. In this context, SU-8 epoxy is ﬁlled between

silicon plates. Therefore, its linear CTE is taken as one third

of the volumetric thermal expansion, which is obtained for the

conﬁned sample.

VII. CHARACTERIZATION

To validate the theoretical and numerical modeling, the

experimental characterization of sample devices is performed.

The sample devices (see Fig. 7) are fabricated by using bulk sil-

icon micromachining and SU-8 photoresist casting. The details

of the fabrication are reported in [34] and [35]. The samples

are tested under either external uniform or integrated resistive

heating. The test under uniform heating serves to show the

conﬁnement effect of varying bond widths on the apparent

CTE. The samples tested have a bond width ranging from

60 to 120 µm. On the other hand, the test with resistive heating

serves to show the device performance under normal operating

condition.

The experiments with external heating are carried out by

using a temperature controllable hotplate and a microscope with

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816 JOURNAL OF MICROELECTROMECHANICAL SYSTEMS, VOL. 17, NO. 4, AUGUST 2008

Fig. 8. Apparent transverse CTE as functions of the aspect ratio for a stack of

polymeric and silicon layers (Model #1), a polymeric actuator with a meandered

silicon skeleton (Model #2), and devices under test with the same design as

Model #2.

a charge-coupled device camera. The displacement induced by

a known temperature rise is obtained by comparing the captured

image at the elevated temperature with that at the room temper-

ature. On the other hand, the experiments with resistive heating

are carried out on a probe station. A voltage difference across

the heater causes a current and, consequently, a temperature

rise and thermal expansion. The induced current is measured

by using an Agilent parameter analyzer, whereas the induced

displacement is obtained by comparing the captured images

before and after electrical activation. The responses under

resistive heating are more complicated because they involve

an unknown temperature and are inﬂuenced by temperature-

dependent properties.

VIII. RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

The results and discussions are divided into four parts.

The ﬁrst part discusses the apparent transverse CTEs for the

actuators that are under uniform heating. The second part

discusses the temperature distribution of the present actuator

design that is under resistive heating. The third part compares

the present actuator design with the other design without the

embedded skeleton. The fourth part validates the simulation

with experimental testing over a range of driving voltages.

A. Uniform Heating

Apparent CTEs for the composites are deﬁned as the tip

thermal expansion divided by the composite length and the tem-

perature rise. They can be obtained from theoretical and numer-

ical models and from experimental measurement under uniform

heating. For the ﬁrst model (#1), which is a perfectly bonded

SU-8 layer, the polymeric thermal expansion is substituted into

(11) to estimate a CTE for the composite (50%–50% SU-8/Si).

For the second model (#2), which is a polymeric actuator with

embedded skeleton, the apparent composite CTE is estimated

from the tip displacement. In the experimental measurement,

the apparent CTE is calculated from the measured longitudinal

dimensional change ∆L

0

.

Fig. 8 shows that the apparent CTEs, which are obtained

from various models and experiments, are the functions of

the aspect ratio. All results increase at a decreasing rate with

the aspect ratio. They converge to respective levels at a large

aspect ratio. However, the 2-D Model #1 and (11) predict a

higher apparent CTE than the 3-D Model #2 because Model #1

assumes a stack of parallel silicon plates but ignores the horse-

shoe bends in Model #2. Model #2 predicts the same trend

of the apparent CTE as the measurement but shows some

discrepancy.

B. Resistive Heating

Electrothermomechanical behaviors under resistive heating

are simulated by using theoretical (ODE) and numerical (FEM)

methods. Two actuator models are considered, namely, the

actuator with embedded skeleton (Model #2) and the actuator

without skeleton (Model #3). Both models has the same width

of 60 µm (see Figs. 6(c) and 7). They are resistively heated

with an integrated thin-ﬁlm aluminum heater. In the following

discussion, simulation results for Model #2 are ﬁrst presented

before those for Model #3.

For Model #2, the temperature proﬁles along a meandering

path are simulated at different driving voltages (see Fig. 9). The

results showthat the top temperature proﬁles on the heating ﬁlm

are almost identical to those on the bottom of the silicon skele-

ton. The temperature proﬁles appear to be symmetric along

the path, with the two ends ﬁxed at the room temperature and

the center reaching a peak temperature. The peak temperature

increases with the driving voltage. The nonlinear ODE provides

temperature prediction that is as good as the nonlinear FEM.

However, the linear ODE substantially deviates from the non-

linear simulation at a higher voltage (> 1 V). The discrepancy

using the linear ODE is attributed to the linear assumption that

neglects the change in thermophysical properties with respect

to the temperature rise.

Fig. 10 shows the displacement contours simulated at 1 V

for Model #2. It is found that the longitudinal displacement

(u

y

) increases along the length and reaches a maximum at the

tip. The lateral expansion (u

x

) is largely suppressed but with

some lateral bulging. To a large extent, the actuation remains

an in-plane one, as observed from the vertical displacement

contour (u

z

). The silicon skeleton has an almost completely in-

plane motion when electrothermally activated. There are small

vertical displacements on the free edges of the polymer ﬁlling

and at the front tip of the encapsulant, which is only restrained

from one side.

Fig. 11 shows the temperature and voltage contours induced

at 1 V for Model #2 using ﬁnite-element methods. The temper-

ature distribution is symmetric with respect to the longitudinal

centerline. The tip of the actuator reaches a maximum tem-

perature, whereas the root remains at room temperature. The

temperature contour on the top heating ﬁlm is identical to that

on the bottomsurface of the embedded skeleton. The contour on

the side shows that the temperature is almost uniform across the

thickness but is varied along the length. The simulated voltage

ﬁeld on the aluminum heater is also shown in Fig. 11 to be

symmetric with respect to the longitudinal centerline.

For comparison, Model #3 is also simulated. Finite-element

simulation shows that the surface heating of the polymeric

block leads to a substantial temperature gradient across the

thickness. The top heater is hotter than the bottom surface of the

insulating polymeric block, which is 50 µm thick. Temperature

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LAU et al.: POLYMERIC THERMAL MICROACTUATOR WITH EMBEDDED SILICON SKELETON I 817

Fig. 9. Simulated temperature distributions along a meandering path of a polymeric composite actuator with the embedded skeleton (Model #2), including both

theoretical and FEM results.

Fig. 10. Simulated displacement ﬁelds of a polymeric composite actuator with the embedded skeleton (Model #2) when resistively activated at 1 V. (a) Lateral

displacement (u

x

). (b) Longitudinal (or transverse) displacement (u

y

). (c) Vertical displacement (u

z

).

contour on the top differs from that at the bottom (see Fig. 12).

Due to this gradient, the polymer block under surface heating is

subjected to a vertical motion (e.g., 1.5 µm at 1 V) besides the

intended longitudinal motion (see Fig. 13).

Fig. 14 shows the simulated temperature proﬁles induced

at 1 V along meandering heat conduction paths in Model #3.

Finite-element simulation predicts that the temperature on the

top heater is higher than that at the bottom of the polymeric

block. Both the top and bottom temperature proﬁles appear like

two “camel humps,” which have two identical peaks off the

center and a “saddle” at the center. The central saddle suggests

that heat dissipation at the end tip of the polymer block is

faster than at the inside. In contrast, the nonlinear ODE predicts

a symmetric temperature proﬁle of comparable magnitude as

the ﬁnite element method. However, the ODE method predicts

neither the temperature difference between the top and bottom

nor the “saddle” at the center.

C. Design Comparison

The polymeric actuator with embedded skeleton (Model #2)

is compared with the polymer block without skeleton

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818 JOURNAL OF MICROELECTROMECHANICAL SYSTEMS, VOL. 17, NO. 4, AUGUST 2008

Fig. 11. (Top, side, and bottom views) Simulated temperature and voltage ﬁelds induced to a polymeric composite actuator with the embedded skeleton

(Model #2) when resistively activated at 1 V.

Fig. 12. (Top, side, and bottom views) Simulated temperature ﬁelds induced to a polymeric block (Model #3) when resistively activated at 1 V.

(Model #3). Both models have almost the same geometry (refer

to their dimension in Table IV); however, they differ in actuator

performances, the comparison of which is listed in Table VIII.

The silicon skeleton embedded in Model #2 improves the

heat transfer and reinforces the polymer expander. Therefore,

Model #2 exhibits 25 times higher stiffness in the direction of

actuation (i.e., along the y-axis) and 152 times higher thermal

conductivity [i.e., at 76 W/(mK)] than Model #3. However,

Model #2 contains 50% less thermally expandable polymer and

undergoes less temperature rise than Model #3 when resistively

heated at the same voltage. Consequently, the former delivers

50% less thermal expansion at 1 V than the latter, (i.e., 5 µm

of the former at 1 V in comparison with 11 µm of the latter).

At the same temperature rise, the former could deliver thermal

expansion by as much as 77% as the latter. This strain enhance-

ment is brought by the conﬁnement effect of the skeleton on

polymer.

Furthermore, Model #2 exhibits very little out-of-plane mo-

tion, which is coupled with the intended in-plane motion. The

ratio of out-of-plane to in-plane motion is approximately 1%for

this design under resistive heating, and it becomes 4% under

uniform heating. On the other hand, the motion coupling is

very serious for Model #3. It is 11% under resistive heating

and becomes excessively high at 94% under uniform heating.

The large out-of-plane bending unintentionally happens under

the uniform heating because Model #3 is effectively a bilayer

consisting of a thin Al ﬁlm on top and a thick SU-8 layer

beneath.

Based on the comparison mentioned earlier, it is concluded

that the design with the embedded silicon microstructure can

achieve highly in-plane actuation with a large stiffness and an

adequate displacement.

D. Experimental Validation

To validate the theoretical and numerical models under resis-

tive heating, experiment measurements are performed by using

a sample device (60 µm wide and 530 µm long, see Fig. 7). The

primary measured data include the electric current, resistance

change, and tip displacement. An average temperature rise can

be estimated by using the measured resistance change and the

TCR. The measured data are compared with the simulation

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LAU et al.: POLYMERIC THERMAL MICROACTUATOR WITH EMBEDDED SILICON SKELETON I 819

Fig. 13. Simulated displacement ﬁelds of a polymeric block (Model #3) when resistively activated at 1 V. (a) Lateral displacement (u

x

). (b) Longitudinal

(or transverse) displacement (u

y

). (c) Vertical displacement (u

z

).

Fig. 14. Simulated temperature distribution along the meandering paths on

the top and bottom of a polymeric block (Model #3) when resistively heated at

1 V, including both theoretical and FEM predictions.

results over a voltage range from 0 to 2 V. It is found that the

simulation results agree well with the measurement data.

For example, Fig. 15(a) shows that the simulated electric

resistance increases with the voltage, which is similar to the

measured resistance. The discrepancy between the simulated

and measured resistance is small but grows with the driving

voltages. In particular, the linear ODE shows growing devi-

ations at a voltage that is greater than 1 V. This is because

the assumptions of temperature-independent properties for the

linear ODE do not hold at the elevated temperature. Fig. 15(b)

shows that the predicted average temperature increases with

TABLE VIII

PERFORMANCE COMPARISON BASED ON FINITE-ELEMENT ANALYSIS

the driving voltage. The trend of the average temperature is

similar to that for the resistance. Maximum temperature is not

available in the measurement. However, the simulations predict

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820 JOURNAL OF MICROELECTROMECHANICAL SYSTEMS, VOL. 17, NO. 4, AUGUST 2008

Fig. 15. Electrothermal–mechanical responses as functions of driving voltage for the activated 60-µm-wide polymeric actuators with embedded silicon

microstructures [see Fig. 6(a)]. (a) Electric resistance. (b) Average temperature. (c) Simulated maximum temperature. (d) Tip displacement.

[see Fig. 15(c)] that the maximum temperature increases with

the driving voltage.

Fig. 15(d) shows that both the measured and simulated tip

displacements increase with the driving voltage. The FEM

results agree well with the measurement. However, the ap-

proximation using (12) overestimates the tip displacement. The

comparison between Fig. 15(b) and (d) shows that the FEM

simulation predicts a matched tip stroke as the measurement

but a smaller average temperature at the voltage range > 1 V.

Therefore, this correlation suggests that the CTE values used

for the simulation may be higher than the actual values,

particularly that for SU-8. Therefore, material characteriza-

tion is necessary to provide relevant thermophysical data for

simulation.

IX. CONCLUSION

In conclusion, two decoupled approximate models have been

successfully developed to simulate electrothermal–mechanical

behavior for a polymeric actuator with a meander-shaped

silicon skeleton. The approximate models include a 1-D elec-

trothermal model and a thermoelastic model. These approx-

imate models capture the essence of the actuator behavior

and are compared with a fully coupled ﬁnite element model

and experimental characterization. The approximate models

reveal the relationships between the actuator performance and

design parameters. They can be used as inexpensive tools for

design optimization, which will be reported in a companion

paper [36].

The approximate electrothermal model converts a meander-

shaped heat conduction path into a straight one. It assumes that

the heat transfer is mainly along the skeleton but not across the

polymer ﬁlling. The line model assumes a uniform equivalent

convective ﬂux along the path. The model essentially captures

the electrothermal response for the design with the symmetric

skeleton. However, this model is not suited to predict the

asymmetric temperature proﬁle for a design with an asymmetric

skeleton. It is foreseen that the model can be extended to other

designs with a nonsymmetric skeleton by accounting for the

heat ﬂux across the polymer ﬁlling between the neighboring

segments of the skeleton.

The approximate thermoelastic model uses parallel plates

to model the symmetrically meandered silicon skeleton in the

study of the conﬁnement effect. The approximate model shows

that the apparent transverse CTE increases at a decreasing

rate with the aspect ratio, converging to a value that is higher

than the intrinsic CTE at a large aspect ratio. In general, the

approximate model based on the parallel plates delivers a higher

CTE than the actual design with the meander-shaped skeleton

because the parallel plates impose less transverse restraint on

polymeric expansion than the meandered skeleton. However,

the CTE difference between the two diminishes at a large

skeleton width.

Evaluation based on the numerical modeling indicates that

the polymeric actuator with embedded silicon skeleton could

deliver highly in-plane actuation combined with a relatively

high stiffness and an adequate displacement. In addition, this

actuator design tremendously improves the effective thermal

conductivity so that it overcomes the problem of nonuni-

form heating, which troubles a thick insulating polymer. The

present actuator design with embedded skeleton is effective for

in-plane thermal actuation. It outperforms other designs without

skeleton in many aspects.

ACKNOWLEDGMENT

The authors would like to thank the DIMES–Integrated

Circuit process group for their support in device fabrication,

and Dr. K. M. B. Jansen, Dr. M. Langelaar, and J. Wei for

stimulating discussions and assistance.

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LAU et al.: POLYMERIC THERMAL MICROACTUATOR WITH EMBEDDED SILICON SKELETON I 821

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actuator with embedded silicon skeleton, Part III—Design Optimization.

submitted for publication.

Gih-Keong Lau received the degrees of B.Eng.

(with ﬁrst-class honors) and M.Eng. (by research)

in mechanical engineering from Nanyang Techno-

logical University (NTU), Singapore, in 1998 and

2001, respectively, and the Ph.D. degree from Delft

University of Technology, Delft, The Netherlands,

in 2007, where his research topics were polymer

microactuators and microfabrication.

From 2001 to 2003, he was a Research Associate

with the Centre for Mechanics of Microsystems,

NTU, where he worked on the topology optimization

of compliant mechanisms and piezoelectric actuators for hard disk drives. Since

2008, he is an Assistant Professor with the School of Mechanical and Aerospace

Engineering, NTU. His current research interests are electroactive polymers and

their microfabrication.

Johannes F. L. Goosen received the Dutch Ir. degree

in electronic engineering, with a specialization in

avionics, and the Ph.D. degree from Delft University

of Technology (TU Delft), Delft, The Netherlands,

in 1991 and 1996, respectively, where his thesis

was entitled “Design and fabrication of a surface

micromachined positioning device.” While working

toward the Ph.D. degree, he spent some time at

the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, learning IC

processing. This was followed by four years as a

Postdoctoral Fellow working on the development of

miniature sensors for use in catheters. In this program on minimally invasive

medical procedures, he supervised Ph.D. students and focused on microsensor

design and fabrication for medical applications.

He is currently an Assistant Professor with the Department of Precision and

Microsystems Engineering, under the Faculty of Mechanical, Marietime, and

Materials Engineering, TU Delft. He is currently working on the design

and manufacture of microactuators, microvacuum packages, and micromechan-

ical systems for ﬂapping wing ﬂight.

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822 JOURNAL OF MICROELECTROMECHANICAL SYSTEMS, VOL. 17, NO. 4, AUGUST 2008

Fred van Keulen received the M.Sc. (cum laude)

degree in mechanical engineering and the Ph.D. de-

gree (ﬁnite rotation shell elements, cum laude) from

Delft University of Technology (TU Delft), Delft,

The Netherlands, in 1987 and 1993, respectively.

He is with TU Delft, where, until 1999, he

was an Associate Professor and was an “Antoni

van Leeuwenhoek hoogleraar,” a part-time Professor

with the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering from

1999 to 2005, and has been the Chairman of the

Department of Precision and Microsystems Engi-

neering (80fte) since 2005. As a Researcher, he has been with the University

of Florida, Gainesville, the University of Wales, Swansea, U.K., and the

University of Bradford, Bradford, U.K. He was awarded a visiting professorship

with the University of Bradford, Bradford, U.K., from 1999 to 2002. He is the

coauthor or author of about 50 journal papers or reviewed book chapters and

approximately 90 conference publications.

Trinh Chu Duc received the B.S. degree in physics

from Hanoi University of Science, Hanoi, Vietnam,

in 1998, the M.Sc. degree in electrical engineer-

ing from Vietnam National University, Hanoi, in

2002, and the Ph.D. degree from Delft University of

Technology (TU Delft), The Netherlands, in 2007,

where his research was on piezoresistive sensors,

polymeric actuators, sensing microgripper for mi-

croparticle handling, and microsystems technology.

He was with the Laboratory of Electronic Com-

ponents, Technology and Materials, Delft Institute

of Microelectronics and Submicron Technology, TU Delft. He is currently an

Assistant Professor with the Electronics and Communications Faculty, College

Technology, Vietnam National University, Hanoi, Vietnam.

Pasqualina M. Sarro (M’84–SM’97–F’07) received

the Laurea degree (cum laude) in solid-states physics

from the University of Naples, Italy, in 1980, and

the Ph.D. degree in electrical engineering from

Delft University of Technology (TU Delft), Delft,

The Netherlands, in 1987, where her thesis dealt

with infrared sensors based on integrated silicon

thermopiles.

From 1981 to 1983, she was a Postdoctoral Fellow

with the Photovoltaic Research Group, Division

of Engineering, Brown University, Providence, RI,

where she worked on thin-ﬁlm photovoltaic cell fabrication by chemical spray

pyrolysis. Since 1987, she has been with TU Delft, where she was an Asso-

ciate Professor with the Laboratory of Electronic Components, Technology,

and Materials, Delft Institute of Microelectronics and Submicron Technology

beginning in April 1996, a Full Professor beginning in December 2001, and

where she is currently responsible for research on integrated silicon sensors

and microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) technology. She has authored or

coauthored more than 300 journal and conference papers.

Dr. Sarro received the EUROSENSORS Fellow Award in 2004 for her

contribution to the ﬁeld of sensor technology. She has served as a Technical

Program Committee member of the European Solid-State Device Research

Conference (since 1995), EUROSENSORS Conferences (since 1999), and

IEEE MEMS (2006 and 2007). She was technical program cochair for the First

IEEE Sensors 2002 Conference and the technical program chair for the Second

and Third IEEE Sensors Conferences (2003 and 2004). She is also a member

of the AdCom of the IEEE Sensors Council.

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