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X. Q.Bao, W. Burkhard, V. V. Varadan and V. K. Varadan

Research Center for the Engineering of Electronic and Acoustic Materials
Department of Engineering Science and Mechanics
The Pennsylvania State University
University Park, PA 16802

A system for remotely reading a SAW temperature sensor has been adapted
from an existing, commercially available personnelherchandise detector
system. The SAW sensor is a Lithium Niobate wafer with an inter-digital
transducer (IDT)which is directly connected to a small transducer which is
directly connected to a small microwave antenna and two reflectors. The
reading system is a special Fhl radar. The FM electromagnetic signal is
transmitted by the system and picked up by the small antenna that is
connected to the IDT and is subsequently, converted into a surface acoustic
wave in the L f i b 0 3 wafer, reflected by the reflectors, converted back to an
electromagnetic wave and returned to the FM radar. The acoustic velocity
varies as a function of the ambient temperature and results in varying time
delay of the echoes, which is detected by the system. The resolution and
accuracy of such a system arr investigated theoretically and experimentally.
The operating principle is also suitable for other remote reading SAW

Various applications of SAW sensors have been reported recently. for

example, sensors for temperature, pressure, force, electric voltage, humidity
and gases [ l - 51. Most of them are based on detecting the change in phase
velocity of the surface acoustic wave caused by the above factors. One
usually uses the feedback oscillator method to measure the change in the
velocity. The operating principle is shown in Figure 1.

I nput transducer

SAW devices matches microwave frequencies suggests the idea of utilizing

microwaves instead of wires, i. e., exciting the interdigital transducers with
a remote radar in order to meet the special requirements of certain
applications. Unfortunately, the feedback oscillation method cannot be used
directly because the output signal and the input signal will be mixed in the
microwave channel. As is well known, radar systems, based on microwave
technology, range targets by measuring the time delay of the echo [ 6 ] .If the
target is fixed, the time delay should be only dependent on the wave
velocity. So it is passible to remotely read the SAW sensor by an operating
principle similar to the radar. A remote SAW sensor system developed by
X-Cyte Co. for monitoring personnel and merchandise has been adapted and
calibrated as a temperature sensor. The details of the operating principle and
the results of experimental calibration are described in the following

The diagram in Figure 2 shows the basic operating principle of the system.
An inter-digital transducer (IDT) and two reflectors are on the surface of a
YZ cut Lithium Niobate wafer. The transducer connects




Output t r a n s d u c e r

Figure 2.Remote Temperature Reading SAW System

Figure 1. The SAW Oscillator Sensor
An electric amplifier connects two inter-digital transducers on a
piezoelectric wafer so that oscillations result because of the feedback of the
surface wave propagating from the input transducer to the output
transducer. The oscillation frequency satisfies the condition that the total
phase shift of the loop equals an integer multiple of 271 and varies with the
surface wave velocity. In the SAW-oscillator sensor, wires are needed to
connect the transducers to the amplifier. The fact that the frequency range of

0090-5607/87/ooo0-0583$1.00 0 1987 IEEE

directly to a small antenna. In the remote reading system, a Fh4 generator

sends a linear frequency modulated signal to an antenna and to a mixer. The
signal transmitted by the system antenna is received by the small antenna
connected to the LiNb03 wafer and converted into a surface acoustic wave
by the transducer. The echoes from the reflectors are received by the IDT and
transmitted back to the system antenna and mixed with the original FM
signal in the mixer. The echoes are delayed copies of the original FM
signal. The time delays depend on the acoustic surface wave velocity. which
is a sensitive function of the ambient temperature. The difference frequency
signals, which are usually called IF, are output by the mixer. The
frequencies and the phase shifts of the IFS vary with the time delays. Since
the changes in time delay with temperature are very small, the phase shifts
are used instead, since they are more sensitive than the frequency. In order to
avoid the effects of time delay variations other than temperature changes
(for example, the changes of distance between two antennas), the
temperature is determined by the difference in the phase shifts of the two IFS
corresponding to the two reflectors.


- 583

The original FM signal is expressed as

S (t )


A COS[O( t )I
A COS[( oo+ pt I 2) t

wave speed is very sensitive to the temperature in the vicinity of the SAW
device and we propose the following relationship between the travel time 5
and the temperatureT

+ eo]

T = r0 [ 1

The echo from the first reflector input (S1)to the mixer is the same as the
original FM signal but with a time delay t1 and a different amplitude, so
that it is written as

+ CY. (T - To)]


where a is the temperature coefficient of time delay of the SAW device and
To is the ambient temperature.
From Eq. (8).
$d = Kro [ 1 + CY.(T - To)]
= aKroT+Kz,,(l-To)
= a T + b






where 'c1 is the time delay corresponding to the surface wave travelling from
the transducer to the first reflector and back. The delay can be written as

If the resolution of phase shift difference in degrees is A$, then the

resolution of the temperature rrading will be as


AT= A q l a

2dlI V,



in terms of dl, the distance between the IDT and the frst reflector and v is
the surface acoustic wave velocity, and
the time delay due to the
electronic circuit and signal propagation.

The wafer is made of YZ cut LithiumNiobate with

The IF corresponding to S,(t ) is expressed as

The two reflectors are located such that the time delay at room temperature
To is

a= 9 4 ~ 1 0 - ~ / O C


rl = 1 ps and z2 = 1.1 p


The frequency ptl and the phase shift $1= cootl- p1?12 both depend on
the time delay tl. Since oo is usually much greater than ptl, the phase
shift is more sensitive than variation of the frequency.


From Eq. (3) we know that the total delay tl depends not only on the travel
time of the surface wave, which is a function of the temperature, but also
on the microwave propagation path. The latter varies with the distance
between the excitation transmitted and SAW device. To eliminate the error
from the variation of T ~a , second reflector is put on the wafer. The
corresponding time delay is 7*. Similar to the first reflector, we have the IF
corresponding to the second reflector as

The transmitted FM signal is pulse modulated with a time duration of 1/60

second. The carrier frequency varies linearly from 905 MHz to 925 MHz
during the period. The parameters in Eq. (1) for the FM signal are as

~ ~) =( B~
t COS [ e(t - e2(t) 1
= B2 cos[ pty + wo$ - p$/21

In operation, the distance between the two antennas is within one or two
meters so that re can be neglected compared to r1or T ~ The
. temperature
variation can be in the range 0-200C. The first and second terms in Eq. (9)
are given by


$ = T~ + T~ and T~ = 2d$v


and $ is the distance between the the IDT and the second reflector. The
difference of the two phase shifts can be written as

T o = 0.1


m0 / 2a = 905 MHz


I 2x = 1.2 x 10-3 M H I~ps



oo - N 2 (tl
2 a x 905 x 10 - 1.2 x
= 2rr x 905 x lo6


x 1.05 I 2


so that the approximation in Eq.(9) is justified. From Eqs.(l3), (15) and

(17),the constant 'a' is
a = 3.06 angular degrees I "C

The resolution of the phase shift is 1' so that the resolution of the
temperature reading is given by Eq.(14) as




since mo << pl2

(5 + tl)


as can be seen from the numbers given later; and

T = 2dIv


where T is the total travel time of the surface wave from the fxst reflector to
the second and back. This time being inversely proportional to the surface



0.33 "C



The experimental calibration is done in a Delta 9023 which is a

temperature-controlled chamber. The apparatus is shown in Figures 2 and 3.
A digital thermometer (RTDHand held Thermometer, Keruco Instruments
Co.) with an accuracy o f ? 0.2 "C is taken as a standard. The temperature
range in the experiment is from room temperature near 20C to 140'C. The

The value of the coefficient a = 2.89 is in agreement with that estimated in

Eq.(21). The root mean square of the phase difference is equal to 0.78",
which corresponds to an RMS of 0.27OC.



w i t h antenna


D i g i t a l thermometer

Figure3. Calibration of the Remote Reading System

highest temperature is limited by the melting point of the plastic piece
supporting the small antenna connected to the SAW device. Because the IF
signal is a periodic function, the system can only give the phase shift
differences in the range from -179' to 180". This is the reason for the jump
of 360" near a temperature of 80C (see Figure 4). After correcting for this
Figure 5. Phase Shift Difference Vs Temperature after Jump Correction


There is a problem associated with obtaining multiple values of the

temperature corresponding to one phase shift difference in the current
system. A possible method to overcome this problem is to roughly
determine the temperature range by the frequency of the IF signal. We plan
to do this in the near future.


1. T. M. Reeder, et al., IEEE Ultrason. Symp. Roc., 26, 1975.

2. K. Toda, et al., J. Acoust. Soc. Am., 74,677-679, 1983.

3. D. Hauden, et al., Annual Freq. Control Symp., 312-319, 1980.

4. A. Arthur and H. Wohltjen, Anal. Chem., 56, 1411-1416, 1984.

5. R.

Figure4. Phase Shift Difference Vs Temperature

M.White, E E E Ultrason. Symp. hoc.,

490, 1985.

6. N.S.Tzannes, Communication and Radars, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1985.

jump, the experimental points can be connected by a straight line as shown

in Figure 5 . The line in Figure 5 is obtained by the least mean square
method. The equation of the line is

9 = 2.89 T - 49.1