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micromachines

Article
A CMOS MEMS Humidity Sensor Enhanced by
a Capacitive Coupling Structure
Jian-Qiu Huang *, Baoye Li and Wenhao Chen
Key Laboratory of MEMS of the Ministry of Education, Southeast University, Sipailou 2, Nanjing 210096, China;
220143654@seu.edu.cn (B.L.); 230149404@seu.edu.cn (W.C.)
* Correspondence: hjq@seu.edu.cn; Tel.: +86-25-8379-2632 (ext. 8825); Fax: +86-25-8379-2939

Academic Editors: Ching-Liang Dai and Nam-Trung Nguyen


Received: 14 December 2015; Accepted: 18 April 2016; Published: 26 April 2016

Abstract: A capacitive coupling structure is developed to improve the performances of a capacitive


complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) microelectromechanical system (MEMS)
humidity sensor. The humidity sensor was fabricated by a post-CMOS process. Silver nanowires
were dispersed onto the top of a conventional interdigitated capacitive structure to form a coupling
electrode. Unlike a conventional structure, a thinner sensitive layer was employed to increase the
coupling capacitance which dominated the sensitive capacitance of the humidity sensor. Not only
static properties but also dynamic properties were found to be better with the aid of coupling
capacitance. At 25 ˝ C, the sensitive capacitance was 11.3 pF, the sensitivity of the sensor was
measured to be 32.8 fF/%RH and the hysteresis was measured to be 1.0 %RH. Both a low temperature
coefficient and a fast response (10 s)/recovery time (17 s) were obtained.

Keywords: CMOS MEMS; capacitive humidity sensor; nanowires; coupling electrode

1. Introduction
The growing applications of humidity sensors in various areas such as agriculture, industry and
household have promoted research in the design and fabrication technologies of humidity sensors [1–4].
There are many kinds of humidity sensors including electrolytic humidity sensors [5], resistive
humidity sensors [6,7], optical humidity sensors [8,9], capacitive humidity sensors [10,11] and so on.
Among them, capacitive humidity sensors are widely used because of advantages of low power
consumption, good performances and long-term stability [4,12].
Capacitive humidity sensors are normally based on the humidity-dependent dielectric constant
of a sensitive layer. Electrode geometry design has been studied in depth to optimize the performances
of capacitive humidity sensors or other chemical sensors [13–16]. Generally, there are two kinds of
capacitive humidity sensors: One is based on an interdigitated structure and the other is based on
a parallel plate structure [17]. Interdigitated structures are widely used because of their simple
fabrication processes [18–22]. In chemical sensors, interdigitated structures are usually applied
because one side of these structures can be open to the ambient conditions. However, the sensitive
capacitance and the sensitivity of an interdigitated capacitive structure are usually small [20–22].
Although finer geometry of the electrodes means higher sensitivity, small finger sizes are limited
by the lithography process. As a result, much effort has been made to improve the structure of
capacitive interdigitated sensors. In 2010, Lazarus et al. introduced a multi-stacked metal structure to
enhance the sensitivity of an interdigitated humidity sensor [23]. However, the fabrication process
was complex. In 2012, Kim et al. developed an interdigitated structure with increased height [24].
The sensitivity of the humidity sensor was enhanced but a thick sensitive layer was employed. It is
well known that the sensitivity increases with the thickness of a sensitive layer while the hysteresis
and the response/recovery time rise as well [13,25]. In our previous work, a poly-silicon heater was

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Micromachines 2016, 7, 74 2 of 9

used to reduce both the hysteresis and the response/recovery time of a capacitive humidity sensor [26].
However, greater power consumption was required. To solve these problems, in this paper a capacitive
coupling method was applied to improve the performances of an interdigitated capacitive humidity
sensor. As aMicromachines
result, both 2016, 7, 74
static and dynamic properties were improved. 2 of 9

sensor [26]. However, greater power consumption was required. To solve these problems, in this
2. Structurepaper
and aOperating Principle
capacitive coupling method was applied to improve the performances of an interdigitated
capacitive humidity sensor. As a result, both static and dynamic properties were improved.
The humidity sensor with a conventional structure and an improved structure are shown in
Figure 1. A2. coupling
Structure and OperatingisPrinciple
electrode employed in the improved structure to enhance the sensitive
capacitance as well as the sensitivity.
The humidity sensor with aThe coupling
conventional electrode
structure and anis improved
made ofstructure
silver nanowire
are shown in networks
so that a gridFigure 1. A coupling
structure is obtainedelectrode is employed
to allow in the improved
the penetration structure
of water to enhance
molecules. the sensitive
Although conductive
nano-particlescapacitance
have beenas well
usedas the
in sensitivity. The coupling
an interdigitated electrode
resistive is made of
structure tosilver nanowire
enhance the networks
performance of
so that a grid structure is obtained to allow the penetration of water molecules. Although
a gas sensor [27], it is not practical for an interdigitated capacitive structure. In an interdigitated
conductive nano-particles have been used in an interdigitated resistive structure to enhance the
resistive structure,
performanceconductive nano-particles
of a gas sensor were employed
[27], it is not practical as dispersed
for an interdigitated capacitive electrodes to reduce
structure. In an
interdigitated resistive structure, conductive nano-particles were employed as dispersed electrodes
electrical losses in the sensitive material. However, in this paper the top electrode should be continuous
to maximizetothe reduce electricalcapacitance
coupling losses in the sensitive
between material.
the two However, in this paper
interdigitated the top electrode
electrodes. should
So that nanowires
be continuous to maximize the coupling capacitance between the two interdigitated electrodes. So
instead of nano-particles are used to form a continuous coupling electrode.
that nanowires instead of nano-particles are used to form a continuous coupling electrode.

Figure 1.of
Figure 1. Sketch Sketch of an interdigitated
an interdigitated capacitive
capacitive humidity sensor:
humidity sensor:(a) (a)
conventional structure,
conventional structure;
(b) capacitive coupling structure.
(b) capacitive coupling structure.
Unlike a conventional interdigitated structure, a thinner sensitive layer is preferred to increase
Unlike both the coupling capacitance
a conventional interdigitated and the sensitivity aofthinner
structure, the sensor. Considering
sensitive layertheislimitation
preferred of to
theincrease
leakage current a 0.1–0.2 μm thick sensitive layer can be used which is 10–20 times thinner than that
both the coupling capacitance and the sensitivity of the sensor. Considering the limitation of the
in a conventional interdigitated structure. However, in the improved structure, an additional
leakage current a 0.1–0.2
nanowire layer µm thick sensitive
is deposited on the top,layer can
so it is be used
porous which
and the is 10–20 oftimes
total thickness thinnerlayer
the nanowire than that in
and interdigitated
a conventional the sensitive layerstructure.
is still thinner. Therefore,
However, inthe
thehysteresis
improved and structure,
the response/recovery time are
an additional nanowire
reduced.on
layer is deposited Actually, the capacitive
the top, couplingand
so it is porous structure is a combination
the total thicknessofofanthe interdigitated
nanowirestructure
layer and the
and a parallel plate structure. In a conventional parallel plate structure, the connection between the
sensitive layer is still thinner. Therefore, the hysteresis and the response/recovery time are reduced.
top electrode and its corresponding pad should be carefully designed to avoid step coverage
Actually, theproblems
capacitive coupling
over different structure
materials. isAsa combination
to the capacitive of an interdigitated
coupling structure thestructure and a parallel
top electrode
(nanowire
plate structure. networks in thisparallel
In a conventional paper) isplate
not connected
structure,outside
the and it is just a between
connection floating electrode
the topwhich is
electrode and
more robust
its corresponding padthan a conventional
should be carefully parallel plate structure.
designed to avoid step coverage problems over different
Figure 2 shows the equivalent circuit of the capacitive coupling structure. Where Cf is the
materials. As to the capacitive coupling structure the top electrode (nanowire networks in this paper)
capacitance between adjacent fingers, Rc is the parasitic resistance of the coupling electrode between
is not connected
adjacentoutside
fingers and
and Cit isthe
c is just a floating
coupling electrode
capacitance betweenwhich is more
each finger androbust thanelectrode.
the coupling a conventional
parallel plateThe parasitic capacitance between the interdigitated electrode and the substrate are not included in
structure.
Figure this model because
2 shows it can be eliminated
the equivalent circuit ofbythe connecting
capacitivethe substrate
coupling to the ground [28].
structure. With aC is the
Where f
thinner sensitive layer, Cc is usually much larger than Cf so that the sensitive capacitance is
capacitance dominated
between by adjacent fingers, R c
the coupling capacitance.
is the parasitic resistance of the coupling electrode between
adjacent fingers and Cc is the coupling capacitance between each finger and the coupling electrode.
The parasitic capacitance between the interdigitated electrode and the substrate are not included in
this model because it can be eliminated by connecting the substrate to the ground [28]. With a thinner
sensitive layer, Cc is usually much larger than Cf so that the sensitive capacitance is dominated by the
coupling capacitance.
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Figure2.2. Equivalent
Figure Equivalentcircuit of an interdigitated
circuit capacitive humidity
of an interdigitated sensor
capacitive with a nanowire
humidity sensorcoupling
with aelectrode.
nanowire
coupling electrode.
3. Fabrication Process
Figure
The 2.humidity
Equivalentsensor
circuit ofwith
an interdigitated
a capacitivecapacitive
couplinghumidity sensorwas
structure with afabricated
nanowire coupling electrode.
by a post CMOS
3. Fabrication Process
process. As shown in Figure 3a, standard 3-μm 1-poly-1-metal CMOS process was used to construct
3. Fabrication
humidityProcess
the interdigitated
The structure
sensor with as described
a capacitive in our previousstructure
coupling work [12].was First, a 0.045-μmbythick
fabricated silicon
a post CMOS
dioxide
process. As (SiO
Theshown 2) layer
humidity was thermal
sensor
in Figure with
3a, agrown on a coupling
capacitive
standard 3-µm (100) p-type silicon
structure
1-poly-1-metal (Si) wafer.
was
CMOS Then
fabricated
process bya 0.45-μm
was aused
postto thick
CMOS
construct
poly-silicon
the interdigitated (poly-Si)
process. As shown structure layeraswas
in Figure 3a, deposited
standard
described by
oura1-poly-1-metal
in3-μm low pressure
previous work chemical
CMOS vaporwas
[12].process
First, adeposition
used to (LPCVD)
0.045-µm construct
thick silicon
process.
the (SiO
dioxide The poly-Si
interdigitated layer was
structure patternedintoour
as described form an integrated
previous heater
work [12]. (theaheater
First,
2 ) layer was thermal grown on a (100) p-type silicon (Si) wafer. Then a 0.45-µm thick
0.045-μmwasthick
not used in
silicon
this paper).
dioxide (SiO Next, an
2) layer LPCVD
was insulating
thermal grown layer
on aof SiO
(100) with
2p-type a thickness
silicon of
(Si)
poly-silicon (poly-Si) layer was deposited by a low pressure chemical vapor deposition (LPCVD) 0.55
wafer.μm was
Then a deposited
0.45-μm and
thick
etched to form
poly-silicon contactlayer
(poly-Si) holes.was
Afterwards,
depositeda sputtered aluminumchemical
by a low pressure layer was useddeposition
vapor to fabricate(LPCVD)
a pair of
process. The poly-Si layer was patterned to form an integrated heater (the heater was not used in
interdigitated electrodes.
process. The poly-Si layer The thickness to
was patterned of form
the electrodes
an integrated was 1.2 μm.
heater Finally,was
(the heater a 1-μm thick
not used in
this paper). Next, an LPCVD insulating layer of SiO2 with a thickness of 0.55 µm was deposited and
passivation
this paper). layer
Next, was deposited
an LPCVD and viaslayer
insulating wereofopened in the
SiO2 with pad regions.
a thickness of 0.55 μm was deposited and
etched to form
etched contact
to form holes.
contact Afterwards,
holes. Afterwards,aasputtered aluminumlayer
sputtered aluminum layer was
was used
used to fabricate
to fabricate a paira of
pair of
interdigitated electrodes. The thickness of the electrodes was 1.2 µm. Finally,
interdigitated electrodes. The thickness of the electrodes was 1.2 μm. Finally, a 1-μm thick a 1-µm thick passivation
layerpassivation
was deposited layer and
was vias
deposited
wereand vias were
opened in theopened in the pad regions.
pad regions.

Figure 3. Fabrication process of the humidity sensor: (a) interdigitated structure fabricated by a
complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) process, (b) structure after deposition of a
polyimide film (c) structure after deposition of a silver nanowire electrode.
FigureFigure 3. Fabricationprocess
3. Fabrication processofof the
the humidity
humidity sensor:
sensor:(a)(a)
interdigitated
interdigitatedstructure fabricated
structure by a by
fabricated
Following
complementary
a complementary themetal
CMOS
metal process,
oxide
oxide a two-step
semiconductor
semiconductor post process,
(CMOS)
(CMOS) process was
(b)
process; (b)applied.
structure First,
after
structure a deposition
0.1-μm
deposition
after of athick
of
polyimide was
polyimide filmspun
(c) onto
structurethe wafer
after to
depositionact
of aas a
silver humidity
nanowire sensitive
electrode. material (Figure 3b). A
a polyimide film (c) structure after deposition of a silver nanowire electrode.
lithographic and dry etching process was used to remove the polyimide in the pad regions (which
was not drawn the
Following in the
CMOSfigure). The polyimide
process, a two-step waspostcured under was
process nitrogen purge
applied. as follows:
First, a 0.1-μm ramp to
thick
150 in half an hour; hold at 150 °C for 1 h; ramp to 250 in half an hour
polyimide was spun onto the wafer to act as a humidity sensitive material (Figure 3b). A
Following the CMOS process, a two-step post process was applied. ; hold
First,ata250 °C
0.1-µm for 1
thickh; ramp
polyimide
lithographic
was spun onto theand dry etching
wafer to act asprocess was used
a humidity to remove
sensitive the polyimide
material (Figure in theA
3b). pad regions (which
lithographic and dry
wasprocess
etching not drawnwasinusedthe figure).
to removeThe thepolyimide was cured
polyimide in theunder nitrogen(which
pad regions purge aswas follows: ramp toin the
not drawn
150The
figure). in half an hour; was
polyimide hold cured
at 150 °C for 1nitrogen
under h; ramp to 250 inashalf
purge an hour
follows: ; holdtoat150
ramp 250in °Chalf
for 1anh;hour;
ramp hold
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Micromachines 2016, 7, 74 4 of 9

to 150
at 350 ˝°C in half
C for 1 h; anramphour to ;250
holdinat 250an°Chour;
half for 1hold
h; cool to 20
at 250 °C during ~3 h. At last, silver nanowires
˝ C for 1 h; ramp to 350 ˝ C in half an hour;

were dispersed onto the polyimide with a SonoPlot GIX Microplotter


hold at 250 ˝ C for 1 h; cool to 20 ˝ C during ~3 h. At last, silver nanowires instrument (SonoPlot,
were dispersed ontoInc.,
the
Middleton,with
polyimide WI, aUSA) to form
SonoPlot GIXthe coupling electrode
Microplotter instrument as shown
(SonoPlot, in Figure 3c. The concentration
Inc., Middleton, WI, USA) toof the
form
silver
the nanowire
coupling ink used
electrode in thisinwork
as shown Figurewas 3c.approximately
The concentration 5 mg/mL
of the and
silverit nanowire
was heated inkatused
120 in°Cthis
for
5 min after
work was the dispersion process.
approximately
Micromachines 2016, 7, 74
5 mg/mL and it was heated at 120 ˝ C for 5 min after the dispersion process.
4 of 9
The scanning
The scanning electron
electronmicroscope
microscope(SEM) (SEM)image
imageof of
thethehumidity
humiditysensor before
sensor and and
before afterafter
the post
the
process
post tois350
process °C
shown in in
halfFigure
is shown aninhour4.;Figure
hold4.at Figure
Figure 250 °C for
4a shows 4a1shows
h; cool to
details of20the
°Cinterdigitated
details during
of the~3 h. At last,
interdigitated silverelectrodes
electrodes nanowires
before the post
before
the postwere
process. In dispersed
the
process. In onto
structure,thethe thewidth
polyimide
structure, and with
thelength a SonoPlot
width ofand GIX Microplotter
eachlength
finger were
of 5 μm
each instrument
and were
finger 3200 μm,(SonoPlot,
5 µm Inc.,
respectively.
and 3200 µm, The
Middleton, WI, USA) to form the coupling electrode as shown in Figure 3c. The concentration of the
spacing of adjacent
respectively. fingersofwas
The spacing 3 μm. fingers
adjacent The total wasarea of the
3 µm. The sensitive capacitor
total area was 509 μm
of the sensitive × 3200was
capacitor μm.
silver nanowire ink used in this work was approximately 5 mg/mL and it was heated at 120 °C for
In Figure
509 µm ˆ
5 min 4b,
3200 polyimide
after
µm. In
the dispersionwasprocess.
Figure spun on the interdigitated electrodes and silver nanowires were
4b, polyimide was spun on the interdigitated electrodes and silver
dispersed on
nanowires Thethe
were top ofelectron
dispersed
scanning polyimide.
the top The
on microscope average
of (SEM)
polyimide.diameter
image ofThe and length
average
the humidity of
diameter
sensor theand
before silver
and nanowires
length
after theof were
the silver
post
40 nm and
nanowires 20 μm,
process
were 40respectively.
is shownnminand Figure 4. Figure
20 µm, 4a shows details of the interdigitated electrodes before the post
respectively.
process. In the structure, the width and length of each finger were 5 μm and 3200 μm, respectively. The
spacing of adjacent fingers was 3 μm. The total area of the sensitive capacitor was 509 μm × 3200 μm.
In Figure 4b, polyimide was spun on the interdigitated electrodes and silver nanowires were
dispersed on the top of polyimide. The average diameter and length of the silver nanowires were
40 nm and 20 μm, respectively.

Figure 4.
Figure 4. Scanning
Scanning electron
electron microscope
microscope (SEM)
(SEM) image
image ofof the fabricated structure
the fabricated before and
structure before and after
after
post-microelectromechanical system
post-microelectromechanical system (MEMS)
(MEMS) process:
process: (a)
(a)interdigitated
interdigitatedelectrodes
electrodesfabricated
fabricatedbybya
atypical
typicalCMOS
CMOSprocess,
process;(b)
(b)silver
silvernanowires
nanowiresdeposited
depositedon
onthethetop
topofofthe
thestructure.
structure.
Figure 4. Scanning electron microscope (SEM) image of the fabricated structure before and after
post-microelectromechanical system (MEMS) process: (a) interdigitated electrodes fabricated by a
4. Results
4. Results typical CMOS process, (b) silver nanowires deposited on the top of the structure.

4.1. Static
4.1. Static Measurements
4. Results
Measurements
Static
Static humidity
4.1. humidity
Static measurementswere
measurements
Measurements were performed
performed using
using a humidity
a humidity calibrator
calibrator (Beijing
(Beijing Great
Great Smart
SmartTechnology
New NewStatic
Technology
Co., Ltd.,Co., Ltd.,
Beijing, Beijing,
China) asChina)
shown as shown
in Figure 5.inThe
Figure 5.
humidity The
humidity measurements were performed using a humidity calibrator (Beijing Great
humidity
calibrator calibrator
consisted of
aconsisted
test camber,
Smartof New
a test
a camber,Co.,
thermostat
Technology bath a Ltd.,
thermostat
and a bath and
dual-pressure
Beijing, China) a dual-pressure
humidity
as shown in Figure 5. Thehumidity
generator. The generator. The
temperature inside
humidity calibrator the
temperature
test chamber inside
consisted
was a the
test test
ofstabilized bychamber
camber, was stabilized
a thermostat
the thermostat bath
bathandandaby the thermostat
dual-pressure
the humidity bathgenerator.
humidity
atmosphere and
wasthe humidity
The
provided by
atmosphere
the was provided
temperature
dual-pressure inside theby
humidity thechamber
test dual-pressure
generator. was of
Both humidity
stabilized
them generator.
by the
were thermostat
controlled Both
by bath ofand
them
a computer.the were controlled
humidity
An LCR meter
(Changzhouatmosphere
by a computer. An
ApplentwasLCRprovided
meterby(Changzhou
Technology the dual-pressure
Co., humidity
Applent
Ltd., Changzhou, generator.
Technology
China) was Bothused
Co., of them
Ltd., were controlled
Changzhou,
to measure China)
the was
sensitive
by a computer. An LCR meter (Changzhou Applent Technology Co., Ltd., Changzhou, China) was
used to measure
capacitance of the the sensitive
humidity capacitance
sensor. The test of the humidity
frequency was 100sensor.
kHz andThethetesttest
frequency was recorded
results were 100 kHz
used to measure the sensitive capacitance of the humidity sensor. The test frequency was 100 kHz
andthe
by thecomputer.
testthe
and results werewere
test results recorded
recorded bybythe
thecomputer.
computer.

Figure 5. Test system of the humidity sensor for static measurements.


Figure 5. Test system of the humidity sensor for static measurements.
Figure 5. Test system of the humidity sensor for static measurements.
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Micromachines 2016, 7, 74 5 of 9

The humidity sensor with a capacitive coupling structure was calibrated from 15 to 90 %RH
The humidity sensor with a capacitive coupling structure was calibrated from 15 to 90 %RH at
at 5, 15, 25 and 35 ˝ C, respectively. Both an adsorption process and a desorption process were carried
5, 15, 25 and 35 °C, respectively. Both an adsorption process and a desorption process were carried
out. The
out. humidity
The humidity response
response curves
curvesofofthethesensor
sensor are shownininFigure
are shown Figure6. 6.
TheThe sensor
sensor exhibited
exhibited goodgood
sensitivity and linearity. The temperature coefficient of the sensor was not significant
sensitivity and linearity. The temperature coefficient of the sensor was not significant over a range over a range of
˝ C. The hysteresis of the sensor reduced with the temperature because of
of temperatures from 5 to 35 °C. The hysteresis of the sensor reduced with
temperatures from 5 to 35 temperature because
of the promotion
the promotion of diffusion.
of diffusion. It is clear
It is clear that water
that water molecules
molecules cancan escape
escape fromfrom
thethe sensitivematerial
sensitive materialmore
easilymore
witheasily
higher with higher temperature.
temperature. The maximumThe maximum hysteresis
hysteresis was 3.5was
%RH3.5 occurred
%RH occurredat 75 at 75 %RH
%RH and 5 ˝ C.
Tableand 5 °C. Table
1 shows details1 shows details
of static of staticof
properties properties of the humidity
the humidity sensor. sensor.

Figure
Figure 6. Output
6. Output of the
of the humiditysensor
humidity sensoras
asaa function
function of
ofrelative
relativehumidity
humidityat different temperatures.
at different temperatures.

Table
Table 1. Static
1. Static properties
properties ofofthe
thehumidity
humidity sensor
sensor with
withaacapacitive
capacitivecoupling structure.
coupling structure.
Property 5 °C 15 °C 25 °C 35 °C
Property 5 ˝C 15 ˝ C 25 ˝ C 35 ˝ C
Sensitivity (fF/%RH) 33.9 32.7 32.8 33.9
Linearity
Sensitivity (fF/%RH) 1.5%
33.9 3.6%
32.7 2.7%
32.8 0.4%
33.9
Hysteresis (%RH))
Linearity 3.5
1.5% 1.9
3.6% 2.7%1.0 0.4%1.0
Hysteresis (%RH) 3.5 1.9 1.0 1.0
4.2. Dynamic Measurements
4.2. Dynamic Measurements
As description in Figure 7, an experiment set up was constructed to evaluate the dynamic
properties
As of the humidity
description in Figuresensor.
7, an Both a response
experiment setprocess
up was andconstructed
a recovery process were performed
to evaluate the dynamic
at 25 °C. Take the measurement of response time, for example. First, the relative humidity in the
properties of the humidity sensor. Both a response process and a recovery process were performed
chamber was set to be 15 %RH. A humidity sensor was fixed in the test chamber and allowed to
at 25 ˝ C. Take the measurement of response time, for example. First, the relative humidity in the
stabilize (Figure 7a). Then the cap inside the test chamber was pulled upwards by the connecting rod
chamber was in
as shown setFigure
to be7b.
15The
%RH. A humidity
humidity sensor wassensor
sealedwas
in a fixed
15 %RHin atmosphere.
the test chamber and
Next, the allowed to
humidity
stabilize
outside the cap increased to 90 %RH and kept for 5 min. Finally, the cap was pushed downwards rod
(Figure 7a). Then the cap inside the test chamber was pulled upwards by the connecting
quickly
as shown to achieve
in Figure 7b.an
Theabrupt increase
humidity of relative
sensor humidity
was sealed in a(15–90
15 %RH %RH). The sensitive
atmosphere. capacitance
Next, the humidity
wasthe
outside measured by an LCR
cap increased to meter
90 %RHand and
recorded
keptby a computer.
for 5 min. Finally, the cap was pushed downwards
quickly toBoth a response
achieve curve
an abrupt and a recovery
increase curve
of relative of the humidity
humidity sensor The
(15–90 %RH). are illustrated in Figure 8. was
sensitive capacitance
The response
measured by an LCR timemeter
is defined as the time
and recorded by for the sensitive capacitance to rise to 90% of its final
a computer.
steady-state
Both value curve
a response and theand
recovery time is curve
a recovery definedofasthe
thehumidity
time for thesensor
sensitive
arecapacitance
illustratedtoinfall to
Figure 8.
The response time is defined as the time for the sensitive capacitance to rise to 90% of its final
steady-state value and the recovery time is defined as the time for the sensitive capacitance to fall
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Micromachines 2016, 7, 74 6 of 9
10% of its initial2016,
Micromachines vale. As described in Figure 8, the response time of the improved structure 6was
7, 74 of 9 10 s
and the corresponding recovery time was 17 s.
10%
to 10% of of
itsits initialvale.
initial vale.As
Asdescribed
described in
in Figure
Figure8,8,the
theresponse
responsetime of of
time thethe
improved structure
improved was 10
structure was s 10 s
and the corresponding recovery time
and the corresponding recovery time was 17 s. was 17 s.

Figure
Figure 7. Test
7. Test system
system of the
of the humiditysensor
humidity sensor for
for dynamic
dynamic measurements.
measurements. (a) (a)
TheThe
firstfirst
step step
of the
of the
measurement;
Figure 7. Test (b)
measurement; (b) The
system
The of second step
ofof
the humidity
second step the
the measurement;
sensor (c)
(c) The
for dynamic
measurement; third
thirdstep
stepofof
measurements.
The thethe
measurement.
(a) The first step of the
measurement.
measurement; (b) The second step of the measurement; (c) The third step of the measurement.

Figure 8. Dynamic test results of the sensor at 25 °C.

5. Discussion
Figure 8. Dynamic test results of the sensor at 25 ˝°C.
As described in our previous
Figure work, atest
8. Dynamic conventional interdigitated
results of the sensor at 25 capacitive
C. humidity sensor
suffered from low sensitivity (1.46 fF/%RH at 25 °C) and significant hysteresis. An on-chip heater
5. Discussion
was introduced to reduce the hysteresis of the sensor (decreased to 1 %RH at 25 °C) but it had little
5. Discussion
effect on the sensitivity
As described [24]. To evaluate
in our previous work, the sensitivity of different
a conventional structures,
interdigitated the output
capacitive should be
humidity sensor
As describedby
characterized inaour previous
relative changework, a conventional
of capacitance interdigitated
ΔC/Cdry, where C capacitive humidity sensor
dry is the sensitive capacitance in a
suffered from low sensitivity (1.46 fF/%RH at 25 °C) and significant hysteresis. An on-chip heater
suffered from low sensitivity (1.46 fF/%RH at 25 ˝ C) and significant hysteresis. An on-chip heater
was introduced to reduce the hysteresis of the sensor (decreased to 1 %RH at 25 °C) but it had little
was introduced to reduce the hysteresis of the sensor (decreased to 1 %RH at 25 ˝ C) but it had little
effect on the sensitivity [24]. To evaluate the sensitivity of different structures, the output should be
effect on the sensitivity [24]. To evaluate the sensitivity of different structures, the output should be
characterized by a relative change of capacitance ΔC/Cdry, where Cdry is the sensitive capacitance in a
characterized by a relative change of capacitance ∆C/Cdry , where Cdry is the sensitive capacitance
Micromachines 2016, 7, 74 7 of 9
Micromachines 2016, 7, 74 7 of 9

dry air atmosphere. In a conventional interdigitated structure, Cdry is about 1.4 pF and in a
in a dry air atmosphere. In a conventional interdigitated structure, Cdry is about 1.4 pF and in
capacitive coupling structure, Cdry is about 11.3 pF. Figure 9 shows the relationships between
a capacitive coupling structure, Cdry is about 11.3 pF. Figure 9 shows the relationships between relative
relative change of capacitance and relative humidity of both structures ˝at 25 °C. In percentage terms,
change of capacitance and relative humidity of both structures at 25 C. In percentage terms, the
the sensitivity increases from 0.1 %/%RH to 0.29 %/%RH with the aid of a capacitive coupling effect.
sensitivity increases from 0.1 %/%RH to 0.29 %/%RH with the aid of a capacitive coupling effect.
In other words, the sensitivity of the capacitive coupling structure is 2.9 times higher than that of a
In other words, the sensitivity of the capacitive coupling structure is 2.9 times higher than that of
conventional structure. Additionally, the response time of a conventional structure is 38 s (without
a conventional structure. Additionally, the response time of a conventional structure is 38 s (without
self-heating) and 25 s (with self-heating). The response time of a capacitive coupling structure is 10 s,
self-heating) and 25 s (with self-heating). The response time of a capacitive coupling structure is 10 s,
which is about 3.8 times faster than that of a conventional structure and 2.5 times faster than that of a
which is about 3.8 times faster than that of a conventional structure and 2.5 times faster than that of
self-heating structure.
a self-heating structure.

Figure 9. Relationship between relative change of capacitance and relative humidity at 25 ˝ C.


Figure 9. Relationship between relative change of capacitance and relative humidity at 25 °C.

The
The capacitive
capacitive coupling
coupling structure
structure is compared with
is compared with both
both aa multi-stacked
multi-stacked metal
metal structure
structure and
and
an increasedheight
an increased heightstructure
structure as as shown
shown in Table
in Table 2. For2.allFor all structures
of the of the structures the sensitivity
the sensitivity is enhanced is
enhanced and the coupling
and the capacitive capacitive coupling
structure is structure is more
more efficient thanefficient
the otherthan
twothe other two
structures. structures.
Both Both
the capacitive
the capacitive
coupling coupling
structure structure
and the and the multi-stacked
multi-stacked metal structure metal structure
exhibit exhibit better
better linearity than linearity than
the increased
the increased
height height
structure. Thestructure.
hysteresisThe hysteresis
of the increased of height
the increased
structureheight structure
is larger is larger
than that of thethan that of
capacitive
the capacitive
coupling coupling
structure structure
because because
the former onetheuses
former one uses
a thicker a thicker
sensitive sensitive
layer. layer. The
The recovery recovery
time of the
time of the multi-stacked metal structure is slower than that of the capacitive coupling structure.
multi-stacked metal structure is slower than that of the capacitive coupling structure. Both the
Both the capacitive
capacitive couplingand
coupling structure structure and the multi-stacked
the multi-stacked metal structure metal
are structure
fabricatedareby afabricated
CMOS MEMS by a
CMOS MEMS process but the latter one is much more complex.
process but the latter one is much more complex.

Table Comparison of
2. Comparison
Table 2. of different
different optimized
optimized structures.
structures.

Structure Improvement
Improvement of Sensitivity Linearity Hysteresis Recovery
Recovery Time
Structure Linearity Hysteresis
Capacitive coupling structure of 2.9
Sensitivity
times good 1.0 %RH Time
17 s
Capacitivemetal
Multi-stacked coupling structure
structure [23] 2.9 times
2 times good
good 1.0
Not%RH
reported 17 ss
>20
Increased height structure [24] 2.3 times poor 2.87 %RH Not reported
Multi-stacked metal structure [23] 2 times good Not reported >20 s
Increased height structure [24] 2.3 times poor 2.87 %RH Not reported
6. Conclusions
6. Conclusions
A capacitive coupling technique was used to improve the performances of an interdigitated
capacitive structure
A capacitive in a CMOS
coupling MEMS
technique washumidity
used to sensor.
improveThe thesensitive capacitance
performances of the sensor
of an interdigitated
was
capacitive structure in a CMOS MEMS humidity sensor. The sensitive capacitance of theincrease
enhanced by the coupling capacitance. A thinner sensitive layer was used to the
sensor was
coupling capacitance
enhanced by the couplingand capacitance.
the sensitivity. The humidity
A thinner sensitivesensor wasused
layer was fabricated by a the
to increase post-CMOS
coupling
process. Both static and dynamic measurements were carried out. According to the measurements,
capacitance and the sensitivity. The humidity sensor was fabricated by a post-CMOS process. Both the
sensitivity of the sensor was 32.8 fF/%RH (0.29 %/%RH in percentage terms) and the
static and dynamic measurements were carried out. According to the measurements, the sensitivityhysteresis of the
sensor was 1 %RH ˝ C. The temperature coefficient of the sensor was not significant over a range
at 25fF/%RH
of the sensor was 32.8 (0.29 %/%RH in percentage terms) and the hysteresis of the sensor
was 1 %RH at 25 °C. The temperature coefficient of the sensor was not significant over a range of
Micromachines 2016, 7, 74 8 of 9

of temperature from 5 to 35 ˝ C. The response time of the improved structure was 10 s and the recovery
time was 17 s at 25 ˝ C. With the aid of the capacitive coupling structure, the sensitivity increases
2.9 times and the response time reduces 3.8 times as compared to that of a conventional structure.
In the future work, the humidity sensor will be further improved by optimizing the thickness of films,
the concentration of the nanowire ink and the sizes of nanowires.

Acknowledgments: The project is supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China under contract
No. 61302021.
Author Contributions: Jian-Qiu Huang designed the sensor and the test systems, and also prepared and approved
the manuscript. Baoye Li and Wenhao Chen carried out test experiments. All authors reviewed the manuscript.
Conflicts of Interest: The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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