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A g r e at e r m e a s u r e o f c o n f i d e n c e

Introduction 2 Low Current Measurements 2 Measurement Circuit 2 Leakage Currents and Guarding 3 Noise and Source Resistance 3 Zero Drift 4 Generated

Currents 4 Overload Protection 6 AC Interference and Damping 6 Using a Coulombmeter to Measure Low Current 7 High Resistance Measurements 8 Constant-

Voltage Method 8 Constant-Current Method 8 Guarding 9 Settling Time 10 Low-I Application 11 High-R Application 12 Selector Guide 13 Glossary 14
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Introduction............................................................... 2
Low Current Measurements
Measurement Circuit............................................... 2
Leakage Currents and Guarding........................ 3
Noise and Source Resistance.............................. 3

Low Current Measurements Zero Drift.......................................................................4


Generated Currents................................................. 4
Overload Protection................................................ 6
HI
AC Interference and Damping............................ 6
Measurement Circuit Using a Coulombmeter to
Introduction The correct measurement circuit for making a current RS RM
Measure Low Current.............................................. 7

Testing and characterizing metallic materials, low measurement is shown in Figure 1. Ensure that the High Resistance Measurements
temperature superconductors, nanoscale materials, measurement instrument is at a low voltage point in the VB Constant-Voltage Method..................................... 8
highly doped semiconductors, photo-diode dark circuit. This ensures that the instrument is less likely VS IM
Constant-Current Method..................................... 8
currents, and electron beam currents from accelerating to be damaged by an over-voltage applied across the Guarding....................................................................... 9

devices requires making current measurements at instrument. Also, when the instrument is near circuit LO
Settling Time............................................................. .10

nanoamp levels and below. Either the generated common, noise voltages tend to be lower. Thus, a better Low-I Application: Avalanche Photodiode
measurement can be obtained. Reverse Bias Current Measurements................... 11
current is low or very low power materials, such DMM, Electrometer, SMU,
or Picoammeter High-R Application: Voltage Coefficient
as single-atomic-layer graphene, must operate with Current Source Testing of High Ohmic Value Resistors............... .12
very low currents to minimize power dissipation VS VS – VB VS VB Selector Guide........................................................ .13
and destruction due to self-heating. Similarly, high RX RX =
I
IM =
RS
or IM =
RS
1 –
VS Glossary.................................................................... .14
resistance measurements on insulators, polymers,
ceramics, and lightly doped semiconductors also Figure 2: Effects of Voltage Burden on Current
demand the ability to measure very low currents. HI Measurement Accuracy Want to Explore Further?
VS I Minimizing voltage burden ensures maximum measure- Featured Resources
Making low current and high resistance mea-
surements requires instrumentation with special LO
ment accuracy. Picoammeters, SMUs, and electrometers • Optimizing Low-
capabilities and the use of good measurement tech- Electrometer all use the feedback ammeter circuit technology shown Current Measurements
niques. The instruments used to make these high Picoammeter in Figure 3. This topology minimizes voltage burden, and Instruments
impedance measurements include electrometers, typically to a few hundred microvolts. In comparison, a
picoammeters, and source-measure units (SMUs). DMM, which uses a shunt resistance technique to measure • High Accuracy
Figure 1: High Resistance Measurement Using current, can have voltage burdens of tenths of volts. Electrometers for
These types of instruments, combined with good External Voltage Source Low Current/High
measurement practices, will help ensure low level Resistance
RF
measurements that are accurate and repeatable. This An ammeter may be represented by an ideal ammeter (IM) Applications
e-handbook offers an overview of the instrumentation with zero internal resistance, in series with a resistance IIN
and techniques used for making low current and high (RM), as shown in Figure 2. When a current source whose –
resistance measurements. Thevenin equivalent circuit is a voltage (VS) in series with A
a source resistance (RS) is connected to the input of the Input V1 +
VO Output
ammeter, the current is reduced from what it would be
with the ideal ammeter (R M = 0Ω). This reduction is Additional Resources
caused by the internal resistance (R M), which creates an VO = –IINRF • Low Current Measurements
additional voltage drop called the voltage burden (V B). • High Resistance Measurements
Figure 3: Feedback Ammeter
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Introduction............................................................... 2
Low Current Measurements
Low Current Measurements (continued) Measurement Circuit............................................... 2
Leakage Currents and Guarding........................ 3
A number of error sources can have serious impacts on Noise and Source Resistance TABLE 1: Minimum Recommended Source Noise and Source Resistance.............................. 3
low current measurement accuracy. For example, the The source resistance of the DUT will affect the noise per- Resistance Values for a Typical Feedback Ammeter Zero Drift.......................................................................4
ammeter may cause measurement errors if not connected formance of a feedback ammeter. As the source resistance Minimum Recommended Source Generated Currents................................................. 4
Range
properly. The ammeter’s voltage burden and input offset is reduced, the noise gain of the ammeter will increase. Resistance Overload Protection................................................ 6
current may also affect measurement accuracy. The source pA 1 GΩ AC Interference and Damping............................ 6
nA 1 MΩ Using a Coulombmeter to
resistance of the device under test will affect the noise ZF
Measure Low Current.............................................. 7
performance of a feedback ammeter. External sources µA 1 kΩ
High Resistance Measurements
of error can include leakage current from cables and CF mA 1 Ω Constant-Voltage Method..................................... 8
fixtures, as well as currents generated by triboelectric or
piezoelectric effects. ZS source resistance varies by measurement range because Constant-Current Method..................................... 8
RF the R F value also depends on the measurement range. Guarding....................................................................... 9
Leakage Currents and Guarding Refer to the instruction manual for the instrument to be Settling Time............................................................. .10
CS
Leakage currents are generated by stray resistance paths — used for the appropriate minimum recommended source Low-I Application: Avalanche Photodiode
between the measurement circuit and nearby voltage Reverse Bias Current Measurements................... 11
resistances.
RS
sources. These currents can degrade the accuracy of low + High-R Application: Voltage Coefficient
VO Source Capacitance Testing of High Ohmic Value Resistors............... .12
current measurements considerably. To reduce leakage
currents, use good quality insulators, reduce the level VS VNOISE DUT source capacitance will also affect the noise Selector Guide........................................................ .13
of humidity in the test environment, and use guarding. performance of a feedback type ammeter. In general, as Glossary.................................................................... .14
Guarding will also reduce the effect of shunt capacitance source capacitance increases, so does the noise gain.
in the measurement circuit. Current Source Feedback Ammeter To see how changes in source capacitance can affect noise
Using good quality insulators when building the test circuit gain, let’s again refer to the simplified ammeter model in
is one way to reduce leakage currents. Teflon, polyethylene, Figure 4: Simplified Model of a Feedback Ammeter Figure 4. The elements of interest for this discussion are
and sapphire are examples of good quality insulators, but the source capacitance (CS) and the feedback capacitance
avoid materials like phenolics and nylon. Figure 4 shows a simplified model of a feedback ammeter. (CF). Taking into account the capacitive reactance of these
R S and CS represent the source resistance and source two elements, our previous noise gain formula must be
Humidity may also degrade low current measurements. capacitance, VS is the source voltage, and VNOISE is the noise
Different types of insulators will absorb varying amounts modified as follows:
of water from the air, so it’s best to choose an insulator voltage of the ammeter. Finally, RF and CF are the feedback
on which water vapor doesn’t readily form a continuous resistance and capacitance respectively. The noise gain of
film. Sometimes, this is unavoidable if the material being the circuit can be given by the following equation: Here, ZF represents the feedback impedance made up of
measured absorbs water easily, so it’s best to make the mea- CF and RF, while ZS is the source impedance formed by RS
surements in an environmentally controlled room. In some and CS. Furthermore,
cases, an insulator may have ionic contaminants, which can Note that as R S decreases in value, the output noise
generate a spurious current, especially in high humidity. increases. For example, when R F = RS, the input noise is
Guarding is a very effective way to reduce leakage multiplied by a factor of two. Too low a source resistance
currents. A guard is a low impedance point in the circuit can have a detrimental effect on noise performance,
so there are usually minimum recommended source and
that’s at nearly the same potential as the high impedance
lead being guarded. For an in-depth discussion of resistance values based on the measurement range.
guarding, consult Keithley’s online handbook, Low Level Table 1 summarizes minimum recommended source
Measurements: Precision DC Current, Voltage, and resistance values for various measurement ranges for a
Resistance Measurements. typical feedback ammeter. Note that the recommended
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Introduction............................................................... 2
Low Current Measurements
Low Current Measurements (continued) Measurement Circuit............................................... 2
Leakage Currents and Guarding........................ 3
Note that as CS increases in value, ZS decreases in value, For optimum accuracy, zero the instrument on the range Noise and Source Resistance.............................. 3
thereby increasing the noise gain. Again, at the point where to be used for measurement. IS Zero Drift.......................................................................4
HI
Generated Currents................................................. 4
ZS = ZF, the input noise is amplified by a factor of two.
Generated Currents Overload Protection................................................ 6
Most picoammeters will have a maximum recommended Any extraneous generated currents in the test system will RS AC Interference and Damping............................ 6
value for CS. Although it is usually possible to measure at add to the desired current, causing errors. Currents can IM Using a Coulombmeter to
higher source capacitance values by inserting a resistor in be internally generated, as in the case of instrument input IOFFSET
Measure Low Current.............................................. 7
VS
series with the ammeter input, remember that any series offset current, or they can come from external sources High Resistance Measurements
resistance will increase the voltage burden by a factor of IIN such as insulators and cables. Figure 5 summarizes the LO
Constant-Voltage Method..................................... 8
· RSERIES. Any series resistance will also increase the RC time magnitudes of a number of generated currents. Constant-Current Method..................................... 8
constant of the measurement. A series diode, or two diodes DMM, Electrometer, SMU,
or Picoammeter
Guarding....................................................................... 9
in parallel back-to-back, can serve as a useful alternative to 10—7 Settling Time............................................................. .10

Typical Current Generated (A)


Current Source Measuring Current IS
a series resistor for this purpose. The diodes can be small- 10—8
Standard Dirty Indicating IM Low-I Application: Avalanche Photodiode
10—9 cable surface Reverse Bias Current Measurements................... 11
signal types and should be in a light-tight enclosure. IM = IS + IOFFSET
10—10 Epoxy
board High-R Application: Voltage Coefficient
Zero Drift 10—11
Figure 6: Effects of Input Offset Current on Current Testing of High Ohmic Value Resistors............... .12
10—12 Clean
Zero drift is a gradual change of the indicated zero offset Low
noise surface Measurement Accuracy Selector Guide........................................................ .13
10—13

Teflon
with no input signal. Unless it’s corrected by “zeroing,” the cable
Glossary.................................................................... .14

Ceramics
10—14 109
resulting offset produces an error by adding to the input 10—15
input offset current adds to the measured current so the
signal. Drift is normally specified as a function of time 1012 meter measures the sum of the two currents:
and/or temperature. Zero offset over a time period and Triboelectric
Effects
Mechanical
Stress
Electrochemical
Effects
Resistor
noise in 1Hz
temperature range will stay within the specified limits. Effects bandwidth

Offset due to step changes in temperatures may exceed the Current-Generating Phenomena

specification before settling. Typical room temperature rates Input offset current can be determined by capping the
of change (1°C/15 minutes) won’t usually cause overshoot. Figure 5: Typical Magnitudes of Generated Currents input connector and selecting the lowest current range.
Most electrometers include a means to correct for zero Offset Currents Allow about five minutes for the instrument to settle,
drift. A ZERO CHECK switch is used to configure most Offset currents can be generated within an instrument then take a reading. This value should be within the
electrometers and picoammeters to display any internal (input offset current) or can be generated from external instrument’s specification.
voltage offsets. This feature allows fast checking and circuitry (external offset current). If an instrument has current suppression, the input offset
adjustment of the amplifier zero. Typically, the instrument Input Offset Current current can be partially nulled by enabling the current
is zero corrected while zero check is enabled. This The ideal ammeter should read zero when its input suppress function with the input terminals disconnected
procedure may need to be performed periodically, terminals are left open. Practical ammeters, however, and ZERO CHECK open.
depending on ambient conditions. Electrometers perform do have some small current that flows when the input is Another way to subtract the input offset current from
this function with the touch of a button or upon command open. This current is known as the input offset current, measurements is to use the relative (REL or zero) func-
from the computer. and it’s caused by bias currents of active devices as tion of the ammeter. With the input open-circuited, allow
In a picoammeter or electrometer ammeter, note that well as by leakage currents through insulators within the reading to settle and then enable the REL function.
ZERO CHECK and ZERO CORRECT functions are used the instrument. Offset currents generated within Once the REL value is established, subsequent readings
to correct for internal voltage offsets. SUPPRESS or REL picoammeters, electrometers, and SMUs are included in will be the difference between the actual input value and
controls are used to correct for external current offsets. the instrument’s specifications. As shown in Figure 6, the the REL value.
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Introduction............................................................... 2
Low Current Measurements
Low Current Measurements (continued) Measurement Circuit............................................... 2
Leakage Currents and Guarding........................ 3
Noise and Source Resistance.............................. 3
External Offset Current External offset currents can be suppressed with the “Low noise” cable greatly reduces this effect. It typically
Zero Drift.......................................................................4
External offset currents can be generated by ionic current suppression feature (if available) of the instrument uses an inner insulator of polyethylene coated with graphite
Generated Currents................................................. 4
contamination in the insulators connected to the ammeter. or they can be nulled by using a suitably stable and quiet underneath the outer shield. The graphite provides
Overload Protection................................................ 6
Offset currents can also be generated externally from such external current source, as shown in Figure 8. With this lubrication and a conducting equipotential cylinder to
AC Interference and Damping............................ 6
sources as triboelectric and piezoelectric effects. As shown arrangement, the current measured by the meter is: equalize charges and minimize charge generated by Using a Coulombmeter to
in Figure 7, the external offset current also adds to the frictional effects of cable movement. However, even low Measure Low Current.............................................. 7
source current, and the meter again measures the sum noise cable creates some noise when subjected to vibration High Resistance Measurements
of the two. and expansion or contraction, so all connections should be Constant-Voltage Method..................................... 8
Assuming IOFFSET and ISUPPRESS are equal in magnitude but kept short, away from temperature changes (which would Constant-Current Method..................................... 8
IS HI opposite in polarity, create thermal expansion forces), and preferably supported Guarding....................................................................... 9
by taping or tying the cable to a non-vibrating surface such Settling Time............................................................. .10
RS as a wall, bench, or other rigid structure. Low-I Application: Avalanche Photodiode
IOFFSET IM The advantage of using an external current source is that Reverse Bias Current Measurements................... 11
Piezoelectric and Stored Charge Effects
IOFFSET can be as large or larger than the full-range value, High-R Application: Voltage Coefficient
VS Piezoelectric currents are generated when mechanical Testing of High Ohmic Value Resistors............... .12
and only IOFFSET – ISUPPRESS need be small. stress is applied to certain crystalline materials when used
LO Selector Guide........................................................ .13
Triboelectric Effects for insulated terminals and interconnecting hardware. In
Glossary.................................................................... .14
DMM, Electrometer, SMU, or Picoammeter
Triboelectric currents are generated by charges created some plastics, pockets of stored charge cause the material
Measuring Current IS
between a conductor and an insulator due to friction. Here, to behave in a manner similar to piezoelectric materials.
Current Source Indicating IM
IM = IS + IOFFSET free electrons rub off the conductor and create a charge An example of a terminal with a piezoelectric insulator is
imbalance that causes the current flow. A typical example shown in Figure 10. To minimize the current due to this
Figure 7: Effects of External Offset Current on Current would be electrical currents generated by insulators and effect, it’s important to remove mechanical stresses from
Measurement Accuracy conductors rubbing together in a coaxial cable, as shown the insulator and use insulating materials with minimal
in Figure 9. piezoelectric and stored charge effects.
IS HI
This effect is independent of the capacitance change
between the plate and terminals. Charges are moved
Frictional motion at
boundary due to
I around, resulting in current flow. In practice, it may be
RS IOFFSET ISUPPRESS I
cable motion
quite difficult to distinguish stored charge effects (in
IM + +
Inner
Insulation conductor
Applied
VS force Metal
– – terminal
I
LO +

DMM, Electrometer, SMU, or Picoammeter Outer Outer I


jacket shield

Measuring Current IS Coaxial Conductive


Current Source
Indicating IM cable lubricant in
low noise cable – –
IM = IS + IOFFSET – ISUPPRESS
Piezoelectric +
When IOFFSET = ISUPPRESS, IS = IM
insulator Conductive plate

Figure 8: Using External Current Source to Suppress Figure 9: Triboelectric Effect Figure 10: Piezoelectric Effect
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Introduction............................................................... 2
Low Current Measurements
Low Current Measurements (continued) Measurement Circuit............................................... 2
Leakage Currents and Guarding........................ 3
Noise and Source Resistance.............................. 3
insulators) from piezoelectric effects. Regardless of the of current for long periods of time. To avoid the effects AC Interference and Damping
Zero Drift.......................................................................4
phenomenon involved, it’s important to choose good of contamination and humidity, select insulators that When measuring low current, electrostatic shielding is the
Generated Currents................................................. 4
insulating materials and make connecting structures as resist water absorption, and keep humidity to moderate most common way to reduce noise due to AC interference.
Overload Protection................................................ 6
rigid as possible. levels. Also, be sure all insulators are kept clean and free However, in some cases, shielding the device under AC Interference and Damping............................ 6
of contamination. test or the connecting cabling isn’t practical. For these Using a Coulombmeter to
Contamination and Humidity
If insulators become contaminated, apply a cleaning applications, a variable damping control may reduce the Measure Low Current.............................................. 7
Error currents also arise from electrochemical effects AC pickup enough to make meaningful measurements.
when ionic chemicals create weak batteries between two agent such as methanol to all interconnecting circuitry. High Resistance Measurements
It’s important to flush away all contaminants once they’re A damping circuit is a type of low pass filter that reduces Constant-Voltage Method..................................... 8
conductors on a circuit board. For example, commonly the electrometer’s AC response so the low DC current can
dissolved in the solvent, so they won’t be redeposited. Use Constant-Current Method..................................... 8
used epoxy printed circuit boards, when not thoroughly be measured accurately. The damping circuit may already
only very pure solvents for cleaning; lower grades may Guarding....................................................................... 9
cleaned of etching solution, flux or other contamination, be built into the electrometer or may be an external
contain contaminants that leave an electrochemical film. Settling Time............................................................. .10
can generate currents of a few nanoamps between circuit. Refer to the instrument’s instruction manual
conductors (see Figure 11. Low-I Application: Avalanche Photodiode
Dielectric Absorption for information on a particular electrometer’s internal Reverse Bias Current Measurements................... 11
Printed Dielectric absorption in an insulator can occur when a damping feature. However, it may be necessary to increase High-R Application: Voltage Coefficient
Wiring Epoxy Printed voltage across that insulator causes positive and negative the damping with an external circuit. Testing of High Ohmic Value Resistors............... .12
Circuit Board
charges within the insulator to polarize because various Selector Guide........................................................ .13
polar molecules relax at different rates. When the voltage Glossary.................................................................... .14
Flux or is removed, the separated charges generate a decaying
other chemical current through circuits connected to the insulator as
To Ranging
Amplifier
and A/D
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I “track” and HI
they recombine.
+ moisture –
Preamp Out Featured Resources
To minimize the effects of dielectric absorption on current LO + C
• Improving Low Current
– measurements, avoid applying voltages greater than a R
Measurements on
I few volts to insulators being used for sensitive current Common
Nanoelectronic and
measurements. In cases where this practice is unavoidable, Link Common
to GND
Shielded Test Fixture Molecular Electronic
it may take minutes or even hours in some cases for the GND
Devices
current caused by dielectric absorption to dissipate. • Techniques for Accurate
Figure 11: Electrochemical Effects
Overload Protection Electrometer Nanotech Electrical
Insulation resistance can be dramatically reduced by Electrometers, picoammeters, and SMUs may be damaged Measurements
high humidity or ionic contamination. High humidity if excessive voltage is applied to the input. Most instruments Figure 12: External Damping Circuit • Instrument Techniques
conditions occur with condensation or water absorption, have a specification for the maximum allowable voltage Figure 12 illustrates an example of an external damping that Reduce Effects of
while ionic contamination may be the result of body oils, input. In some applications, this maximum voltage may circuit. This circuit consists of a low leakage polystyrene External Error Sources
salts, or solder flux. be unavoidably exceeded. Some of these applications or polyester capacitor (C) and a potentiometer (R). The • Counting Electrons: How to
While the primary result of these contaminants is the may include leakage current of capacitors, reverse diode potentiometer is connected between the preamp output Measure Currents in the
reduction of insulation resistance, the combination leakage, or insulation resistance of cables or films. If the and the common (or LO) terminal of the ammeter. The Attoampere Range
of both high humidity and ionic contamination can component or material breaks down, all the voltage would capacitor is connected between the HI input terminal of • New Instruments Can Lock
form a conductive path, or they may even act as an be applied to the ammeter’s input, possibly destroying it. the ammeter and the moving arm of the potentiometer. Out Lock-ins
electrochemical cell with high series resistance. A cell In these cases, additional overload protection is required The value of the capacitor depends on the current range
formed in this manner can source picoamps or nanoamps to avoid damaging the input circuitry of the instrument. of the ammeter. Higher ranges require the use of higher
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Introduction............................................................... 2
Low Current Measurements
Low Current Measurements (continued) Measurement Circuit............................................... 2
Leakage Currents and Guarding........................ 3
Noise and Source Resistance.............................. 3
magnitude capacitors. However, typical values of the Once the rate of change in charge is known, the current Advantages of Using a Coulombmeter
capacitor are in the range of hundreds of picofarads. The can easily be determined from the charge measurement. to Measure Current Zero Drift.......................................................................4
value of the potentiometer should be chosen to be high The instantaneous current (i) is simply: There are several advantages to using a coulombmeter Generated Currents................................................. 4
instead of an ammeter for measuring current in certain Overload Protection................................................ 6
enough (>50kΩ) to avoid loading the preamp output but
situations: AC Interference and Damping............................ 6
still reduce noise effectively. Using a Coulombmeter to
Some experimentation will be needed to choose the • Lower Current Noise: The ammeter uses a feedback Measure Low Current.............................................. 7
best values for the capacitor and the resistance. Connect resistor, which will have significant Johnson noise. High Resistance Measurements
an oscilloscope to the analog output and observe the AC while the long-term average current is defined as: For charge measurement, this resistor is replaced Constant-Voltage Method..................................... 8
waveform on the scope. Adjust the potentiometer to make by a capacitor, which theoretically has no Johnson Constant-Current Method..................................... 8
the AC signal as small as possible. If the noise can’t be noise. Consequently, the charge method of current Guarding....................................................................... 9
suppressed enough with the potentiometer, use a bigger measurement results in lower noise than measuring Settling Time............................................................. .10
capacitor. The damping circuit should be built into a currents directly with a feedback ammeter. Thus, Low-I Application: Avalanche Photodiode
shielded enclosure. the charge method is preferable when current noise Reverse Bias Current Measurements................... 11
Thus, we see that charge can be measured and current performance less than 1fA p-p is required. High-R Application: Voltage Coefficient
Using a Coulombmeter to Measure can be determined simply by making a series of voltage Testing of High Ohmic Value Resistors............... .12
Low Current • Faster Settling Times: The speed of a feedback
measurements. Selector Guide........................................................ .13
In most cases, an ammeter or picoammeter is used to ammeter is limited by the time constant of its feedback
Glossary.................................................................... .14
measure current. However, for femtoamp-level currents, circuit (R FCF). For example, for feedback resistances
it may be better to use the coulombs function of an elec- greater than 10GΩ, stray capacitance limits response
times to tens of milliseconds. In contrast, a feedback Want to Explore Further?
trometer to measure the change in charge over time, then
use those charge measurements to determine the current. integrator will respond immediately and is limited only Additional Resources
by the speed of the operational amplifier.
Charge is difficult to measure directly; it must be related to • Solutions for Production Testing
an easily measured quantity. One commonly used method • Random Pulses Can Be Integrated: The average of Connectors
of making this type of measurement is to measure the charge transferred per unit time of random pulse • Diode Production Testing with
voltage across a capacitor of known value. The charge is trains can be evaluated by integrating the current Series 2400 SourceMeter® Instruments
related to capacitor voltage as follows: pulse train for a given period of time. The average
• Current Switching Demands Special
current amplitudes can then be expressed as the total Attention to Ensure Test System Accuracy
Q = CV charge divided by the time period involved in the
measurement. This technique is especially useful when • Making Ultra-Low Current Measurements
where: Q = capacitor charge (coulombs) with the Low-Noise Model 4200-SCS
C = capacitor value (farads) averaging very small, unsteady currents. If the duty cycle
is known, the pulse height can also be determined. Semiconductor Characterization System
V = voltage across capacitor (volts) • Problem: Noise in Low Current
• The Noise Effects of Input Shunt Capacitance are Measurements
Minimized: Noise gain is mainly determined by CIN/
CF, and CF is much larger in a coulombmeter than in
an ammeter, so much larger input capacitance values
can be tolerated. This characteristic is beneficial when
measuring from high capacitance sources or when long
connecting cables are used.
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Introduction............................................................... 2
Low Current Measurements
Measurement Circuit............................................... 2
Leakage Currents and Guarding........................ 3
Noise and Source Resistance.............................. 3

High Resistance Measurements Zero Drift.......................................................................4


Generated Currents................................................. 4
Overload Protection................................................ 6
AC Interference and Damping............................ 6
When resistances greater than 1GΩ must be measured, for making high resistance measurements using the The constant-voltage method requires measuring low Using a Coulombmeter to
an electrometer, SMU, or picoammeter/voltage source constant voltage method. current, so all the techniques and error sources described Measure Low Current.............................................. 7
are usually required. An electrometer may measure high In this method, a constant voltage source (V) is placed in previously in the Low Current Measurements section High Resistance Measurements
resistance by either the constant-voltage or the constant- series with the unknown resistor (R) and an ammeter (IM). apply to this method. The two most common error Constant-Voltage Method..................................... 8
current method. Some electrometers allow the user to Since the voltage drop across the ammeter is negligible, sources when measuring high resistance are electrostatic Constant-Current Method..................................... 8
choose either method. The constant-voltage method uses essentially all the interference (which can be minimized by shielding the Guarding....................................................................... 9
an ammeter and a voltage source, while the constant- a) Using antest voltage appears
Electrometer across R. The
or Picoammeter high impedance circuitry) and leakage current (which can Settling Time............................................................. .10
resulting current is measured
and a Voltage Sourceby the ammeter and the
current method uses an electrometer voltmeter and a resistance is calculated using Ohm’s Law (R= V/I). be controlled by guarding). Low-I Application: Avalanche Photodiode
current source. R Reverse Bias Current Measurements................... 11
High resistance is often a function of the applied voltage, Constant-Current Method High-R Application: Voltage Coefficient
Constant-Voltage Method which makes the constant-voltage method HI preferable High resistance measurements using the constant-current Testing of High Ohmic Value Resistors............... .12
To make high resistance measurements using the constant- to the constant-current method. By testing at selected method may be made using either an electrometer Selector Guide........................................................ .13
voltage method, an instrument that can measure low voltages, a resistance
V IM canElectrometer
vs. voltage curve or
be developed voltmeter and current source or just an electrometer
Picoammeter Glossary.................................................................... .14
current and a constant DC voltage source are required. and a “voltage coefficient of resistance” can be determined. ohmmeter. An SMU that has a voltmeter with high input
Some electrometers and picoammeters have voltage impedance and low current source ranges may also be
Some of the applications that use thisLOmethod include used. Using the electrometer voltmeter with a separate
sources built into the instrument and automatically can testing two-terminal high resistance devices, measuring
calculate the unknown resistance. current source or an SMU allows the user to make a four-
insulation resistance, and determining the volume and wire measurement and to control the amount of current
The basic configuration of the constant-voltage method surface resistivity of insulating materials. through the sample. The electrometer ohmmeter makes a
using an electrometer or picoammeter is shown in Figure two-wire resistance measurement at a specific test current,
13a. As shown in Figure 13b, an SMU can also be used depending on the measurement range.
b) Using an SMU
a) Using an Electrometer or Picoammeter Using the Electrometer Voltmeter and an
and a Voltage Source Force/Output HI External Current Source
R
The basic configuration for the constant-current method
is shown in Figure 14. Current from the source (I) flows
IM through the unknown resistance (R) and the voltage
HI
drop is measured by the electrometer voltmeter (V).
IM Electrometer or R Using this method, resistances up to about 1012Ω can be
V
Picoammeter measured. Even though the basic procedure seems simple
V enough, some precautionary measures must be taken. The
LO
Force/Output LO
input impedance of the voltmeter must be high enough
compared with a source resistance to keep the loading error
within acceptable limits. Typically, the input impedance of
SMU an electrometer voltmeter is about 1014Ω. Also, the output
Figure 13a: Constant-Voltage Method for Measuring Figure 13b: Constant-Voltage Method for Measuring
High Resistance High Resistance with an SMU Ask Us Your Application or Product Question.
b) Using an SMUwith an Electrometer or Picoammeter
8

Force/Output HI
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Introduction............................................................... 2
Low Current Measurements
High Resistance Measurements (continued) Measurement Circuit............................................... 2
Leakage Currents and Guarding........................ 3
sense) or four-wire (remote sense) method. Figure 15 Using the Electrometer Ohmmeter Noise and Source Resistance.............................. 3
illustrates an SMU in four-wire mode. The four-wire method When using the electrometer ohmmeter, measurement Zero Drift.......................................................................4
HI I HI is used to eliminate contact and lead resistance, which accuracy can be affected by a variety of factors. Figure 16 Generated Currents................................................. 4
shows the electrometer ohmmeter measuring a resistance Overload Protection................................................ 6
Current R
is especially important when measuring resistivity of
V Voltmeter AC Interference and Damping............................ 6
Source semiconductor materials. These measurements usually (R). The ohmmeter uses an internal current source and
electrometer voltmeter to make the measurement. It Using a Coulombmeter to
LO LO involve measuring low voltages. The resistance of the Measure Low Current.............................................. 7
metal probe to semiconductor contact can be quite high. automatically calculates and displays the measured
High Resistance Measurements
When using remote sense, the voltage difference between resistance. Notice that this is a two-wire resistance
Constant-Voltage Method..................................... 8
Figure 14: Constant-Current Method Using a Separate high force and high sense and between low force and low measurement compared to using the electrometer
Constant-Current Method..................................... 8
Current Source and Voltmeter sense is usually limited to a specified value. Exceeding voltmeter and external current source, which can make a
Guarding....................................................................... 9
resistance of the current source must be much greater than this voltage difference can result in erratic measurements. four-wire measurement. This is because the current source
Settling Time............................................................. .10
the unknown resistance for the measurement to be linear. Check the instruction manual of your SMU for further is internally connected to the voltmeter and cannot be
used separately. Low-I Application: Avalanche Photodiode
The voltage across the sample depends upon the sample information on this limitation. Reverse Bias Current Measurements................... 11
resistance, which makes it difficult to account for voltage In addition to the voltage drop limitation, some SMUs have Guarding High-R Application: Voltage Coefficient
coefficient when using the constant-current method. If automatic remote sensing resistors located between the HI As with current measurements, guarding high resistance Testing of High Ohmic Value Resistors............... .12
voltage coefficient is a concern, it’s best to use the constant- Force and HI Sense terminals and between the LO Force test connections can significantly reduce the effects Selector Guide........................................................ .13
voltage method. The electrometer voltmeter and a separate and LO Sense terminals. This may further limit the use of cable leakage resistance and improve measurement Glossary.................................................................... .14
current source are used when determining high resistivity of a single SMU in remote mode for certain applications, accuracy. The loading effects of cable resistance (and other
of semiconductor materials using the four-point probe or such as semiconductor resistivity. If this is the case, use the leakage resistances) can be virtually eliminated by driving Want to Explore Further?
van der Pauw technique. SMU as a current source in the two-wire mode, and use the cable shield with a unity-gain amplifier, as shown in
a separate voltmeter(s) to measure the voltage difference. Figure 17. Since the voltage across R L is essentially zero, Featured Resources
Using an SMU in the Source I, Measure V Mode
An SMU can measure high resistance in the source current/ See Section 4.4.3 of Keithley's Low Level Measurements all the test current (IR) now flows through R S, and the • Improving the
measure voltage mode by using either a two-wire (local Handbook for further information. source resistance value can be accurately determined. The Repeatability of Ultra-
High Resistance and
Source I, Measure V Mode Resistivity
Electrometer Ohmmeter Measurements
Force HI HI
HI • Instrumentation and
Sense HI RL
RM Techniques for
RS
GUARD ×1 VM IR Measuring High
V R
Resistivity and Hall
R V I IG RG
Voltage of
Sense LO
LO
Semiconducting
Unknown
Resistance
Electrometer Ohmmeter Materials
Force LO of DUT
Measuring RS
LO Indicating RM = VM / IR
• Volume and Surface
SMU Resistivity Measurements
of Insulating Materials
Figure 15: Using the SMU in the Four-Wire Mode to Figure 16: Using the SMU in the Four-Wire Mode to Figure 17: Guarding Cable Shield to Eliminate Leakage
Measure High Resistance Measure High Resistance Resistance
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Introduction............................................................... 2
Low Current Measurements
High Resistance Measurements (continued) Measurement Circuit............................................... 2
Leakage Currents and Guarding........................ 3
leakage current (IG) through the cable-to-ground leakage Noise and Source Resistance.............................. 3
path (RG) may be considerable, but that current is supplied Zero Drift.......................................................................4
by the low impedance output of the ×1 amplifier rather Generated Currents................................................. 4
Overload Protection................................................ 6
than by the current source (IR).
AC Interference and Damping............................ 6
Settling Time Using a Coulombmeter to
The settling time of the circuit is particularly important VM IS
Measure Low Current.............................................. 7
RS CSHUNT
when making high resistance measurements. The High Resistance Measurements
settling time of the measurement is affected by the shunt Constant-Voltage Method..................................... 8
capacitance, which is due to the connecting cable, test Constant-Current Method..................................... 8
fixturing, and the DUT. As shown in Figure 18, the shunt Guarding....................................................................... 9
capacitance (CSHUNT) must be charged to the test voltage by Settling Time............................................................. .10
the current (IS). The time period required for charging the Unknown Ohmmeter Low-I Application: Avalanche Photodiode
capacitor is determined by the RC time constant (one time Reverse Bias Current Measurements................... 11
Resistance
constant, τ = RSCSHUNT), and the familiar exponential curve of DUT τ = RS CSHUNT High-R Application: Voltage Coefficient
Testing of High Ohmic Value Resistors............... .12
of Figure 19 results. Thus, it becomes necessary to wait
Selector Guide........................................................ .13
four or five time constants to achieve an accurate reading.
When measuring very high resistance values, the settling Figure 18: Settling Time is the Result of RSCSHUNT Time Constant Glossary.................................................................... .14
time can range up to minutes, depending on the amount
of shunt capacitance in the test system. For example, if Want to Explore Further?
CSHUNT is only 10pF, a test resistance of 1TΩ will result in Additional Resources
a time constant of 10 seconds. Thus, a settling time of 50 99
seconds would be required for the reading to settle to • Problem: Noisy Readings in High
within 1% of final value. Resistance Measurements
• Obtaining More Accurate Resistance
In order to minimize settling times when measuring high Percent 63 Measurements Using the 6-Wire Ohms
resistance values, keep shunt capacitance in the system of Final Measurement Technique
to an absolute minimum by keeping connecting cables as Value
short as possible. Also, guarding may be used to decrease
settling times substantially. Finally, the source voltage,
measure current method of resistance measurement is Time
generally faster because of reduced settling times. 0
0 1.0 2.0 3.0 4.0 5.0

τ = RS CSHUNT

Figure 19: Exponential Settling Time Caused by Time Constant of Shunt


Capacitance and Source Resistance

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10

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Introduction............................................................... 2
Low Current Measurements

Low-I Application: Avalanche Photodiode


Measurement Circuit............................................... 2
Leakage Currents and Guarding........................ 3
Noise and Source Resistance.............................. 3

Reverse Bias Current Measurements Zero Drift.......................................................................4


Generated Currents................................................. 4
Overload Protection................................................ 6
AC Interference and Damping............................ 6
An avalanche photodiode (APD) is a high sensitivity, high Using a Coulombmeter to
speed photodiode that has an internal gain mechanism HI Measure Low Current.............................................. 7
activated by applying a reverse voltage. The gain of the High Resistance Measurements
APD can be controlled by the magnitude of the reverse Shielded Constant-Voltage Method..................................... 8
bias voltage. A larger reverse bias voltage results in a larger Box Constant-Current Method..................................... 8
gain. APDs are operated with an electric field strength such IM Guarding....................................................................... 9
that an avalanche multiplication of photocurrent occurs Model 6430 Settling Time............................................................. .10
similar to a chain reaction. APDs are used in a variety of APD SourceMeter Low-I Application: Avalanche Photodiode
applications requiring high sensitivity to light such as Instrument Reverse Bias Current Measurements................... 11
fiberoptic communications and scintillation detectors. High-R Application: Voltage Coefficient
Testing of High Ohmic Value Resistors............... .12
Measuring the reverse bias current of an APD requires Selector Guide........................................................ .13
an instrument that can measure current over a wide Glossary.................................................................... .14
range as well as output a voltage sweep. Because of
LO
these requirements, instruments such as the Model 6487 Want to Explore Further?
Picoammeter/Voltage Source or the Model 6430 Sub-
Femtoamp Remote SourceMeter instrument are ideal for Figure 20: APD Connected to a Model 6430 Sub-Femtoamp Remote Featured Resources
these measurements. SourceMeter Instrument • 4H-SiC UV Photo
Detectors with Large
Figure 20 shows a Model 6430 connected to a photodiode. Area and Very High
1.0E–4
The photodiode is placed in an electrically shielded dark Specific Detectivity
box. To shield the sensitive current measurements from 1.0E–5

electrostatic interference, connect the box to the LO 1.0E–6


• Problem: Errors in
terminal of the Model 6430. Low Current
1.0E–7 Measurements
Figure 21 shows a current vs. reverse voltage sweep of an Current
(A) 1.0E–8
InGaAs APD, generated by the Model 6430 SourceMeter Breakdown
Instrument. Note the wide range of current measurements. 1.0E–9

The avalanche region becomes more pronounced with in- 1.0E–10


creasing light. The breakdown voltage will cause the current Avalanche
to flow freely since electron-hole pairs will form without the 1.0E–11

need for light striking the diode to generate current. 1.0E–12 Additional Resources
0 10 20 30 40 50 60
• High Accuracy Picoammeters for Low
Voltage (V) Current/High Resistance Applications
Figure 21: Current vs. Reverse Voltage Sweep of an InGaAs APD
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Introduction............................................................... 2
Low Current Measurements

High-R Application: Voltage Coefficient Testing


Measurement Circuit............................................... 2
Leakage Currents and Guarding........................ 3
Noise and Source Resistance.............................. 3

of High Ohmic Value Resistors Zero Drift.......................................................................4


Generated Currents................................................. 4
Overload Protection................................................ 6
AC Interference and Damping............................ 6
High ohmic value resistors may exhibit a significant change Using a Coulombmeter to
in resistance with a change in applied voltage. This effect is Measure Low Current.............................................. 7
known as the voltage coefficient. The voltage coefficient is High Resistance Measurements
the percent change in resistance per unit change in applied R Constant-Voltage Method..................................... 8
voltage and is defined as follows: Constant-Current Method..................................... 8
Guarding....................................................................... 9
HI HI Settling Time............................................................. .10
Low-I Application: Avalanche Photodiode
Model 6517B Model 6517B Reverse Bias Current Measurements................... 11
Alternately, the voltage coefficient may be expressed in ppm Voltage IM Electrometer High-R Application: Voltage Coefficient
as follows: Source Testing of High Ohmic Value Resistors............... .12
Selector Guide........................................................ .13
LO LO Glossary.................................................................... .14

where: R1 = resistance calculated with first Want to Explore Further?


applied voltage (V1). Featured Resources
Figure 22: Connecting the Model 6517B Electrometer Figure 22 is a typical test configuration for voltage coef-
R2 = resistance calculated with second for Voltage Coefficient Testing ficient measurements with the Model 6517B. To minimize • High Voltage
applied voltage (V2). noise and leakage resistance, the resistor should be placed Component Production
in a shielded, guarded test fixture. Connect the shield of the Testing with Two Model
V2 > V1 Using the Model 6517B to Determine 2410 SourceMeter®
test fixture to the LO of the electrometer and connect the
A typical voltage coefficient for a 10GΩ resistor can be
Voltage Coefficient
LO of the electrometer to the LO of the source. Connect the Units
Measuring the voltage coefficient of a high resistance HI terminal of the electrometer to one end of the resistor
about –0.008%/V or –80ppm/V. Thus, if a high resistance • Configuring a
requires sourcing a voltage and measuring a low current. and the HI of the voltage source to the other end.
is required in a measurement circuit, the error analysis Discrete Resistor
An electrometer, such as the Model 6517B, is required to
must account for the error due to the voltage coefficient of Verification Test
make this measurement. The Model 6517B has a built-in test The resistor is first measured with test voltage V1, giving
the resistor, in addition to all other time and temperature System
sequence for determining voltage coefficient. This test makes R1. Next, it is measured with test voltage V2 (where V2 is
error factors.
resistance measurements at two different voltage levels, then greater than V1), giving R 2. The voltage coefficient for
calculates the voltage coefficient. The voltage coefficient is the resistor is then calculated using the equation given
displayed as a percent change in resistance per volt. previously. Additional Resources
• Techniques for Reducing Resistance
Measurement Uncertainty: DC Current
Reversals vs. Classic Offset Compensation

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Introduction............................................................... 2
Selector Guide Low Current Measurements
Measurement Circuit............................................... 2
Current Amplifier Picoammeters Electrometers Source-Measure Unit
MODEL 428-PROG 6485 6487 2502 6514 6517B 6430
Leakage Currents and Guarding........................ 3
CURRENT MEASURE Noise and Source Resistance.............................. 3
  From1 1.2 fA 20 fA 20 fA 15 fA <1 fA <1 fA 400 aA Zero Drift.......................................................................4
  To 10 mA 20 mA 20 mA 20 mA 20 mA 20 mA 100 mA Generated Currents................................................. 4
VOLTAGE MEASURE
Overload Protection................................................ 6
  From2 10 µV 10 µV 10 µV
  To 200 V 200 V 200 V
AC Interference and Damping............................ 6
RESISTANCE MEASURE4 Using a Coulombmeter to
  From5 10 Ω 10 Ω 100 Ω 100 µΩ Measure Low Current.............................................. 7
  To6 1 PΩ 200 GΩ 10 PΩ3 10 PΩ3 High Resistance Measurements
CHARGE MEASURE
Constant-Voltage Method..................................... 8
  From2 10 fC 10 fC
Constant-Current Method..................................... 8
  To 20 µC 2 µC
FEATURES Guarding....................................................................... 9
Input Connection BNC BNC 3 Slot Triax 3 Slot Triax 3 Slot Triax 3 Slot Triax 3 Slot Triax Settling Time............................................................. .10
IEEE-488 • • • • • • • Low-I Application: Avalanche Photodiode
RS-232 • • • • • • Reverse Bias Current Measurements................... 11
Guard • • •
High-R Application: Voltage Coefficient
CE • • • • • • •
Other 2 µs rise time. 10 V/A gain.
11
5½ digits. 5½ digits. Built-in 500V 5½ digits. 5½ digits. Replaces 5½ digits. Built-in ±1kV source. Temperature, SourceMeter Instrument Testing of High Ohmic Value Resistors............... .12
Autoranging. source. Alternating voltage Dual channel. Built-in Models 6512, 617-HIQ. RH measurements. Alternating p ­ olarity method for HI-R. with Remote PreAmp to
1000 rdg/s. method for HI-R sweeps. 100V source per channel. Plug-in switch cards a­ vailable. Replaces 6517A. minimize cable noise. Selector Guide........................................................ .13
Current Sources Voltage Source Source-Measure Units Glossary.................................................................... .14
MODEL 6220 6221 248 2635A 6430
Current Source • • • •
Voltage Source • • •
Sink • • • • •
CURRENT OUTPUT
Accuracy7 2 pA 2 pA DC 4 pA AC 2 pA 10 fA
Resolution8 100 fA 100 fA (DC & AC) 20 fA 50 aA
Maximum ±105 mA ±105 mA ±1.5 A DC and pulsed/10 A pulsed per channel ±105 mA
VOLTAGE OUTPUT
From ±1.5 V ±5 µV ±5 µV
To ±5000 V ±202 V ±210 V
POWER OUTPUT 11 W 11 W 25 W 30.3 V/channel 2.2 W
CURRENT LIMIT 5.25 mA 1 fA to 10 A 1 fA to 105 mA
VOLTAGE LIMIT 105 V 105 V 0 to 5000 V 1 µV to 200V 0.2 mV to 210 V
ACCURACY (±Setting)
I 0.05% 0.05% 0.03% 0.03%
V 0.01% 0.02% 0.02%
Notes
1. Includes noise.
FEATURES
2. Digital resolution limit. Noise may have to be added.
Output Connector 3 Slot Triax 3 Slot Triax SHV High Voltage Coax Screw terminals, adapters for banana and triax 3 Slot Triax 3. PΩ (Petaohms) = 1015Ω.
Ethernet • • 4. Resistance is measured with the Model 237 using Source V/
RS-232 • • • • Measure I or Source I/Measure V, but not directly displayed.
5. Lowest resistance measurable with better than 1% accuracy.
IEEE-488 • • • • •
6. Highest resistance measurable with better than 10% accuracy.
Memory 65,000 pt. 65,000 pt. >100,000 rdgs/buffer 2500 pt.
7. Best absolute accuracy of source.
Remote Sense • •
8. Resolution for lowest range, smallest change in current that
Current Source Guard • • • source can provide.
CE • • • • •
Other Controls 2182A for low-power resistance AC and DC ­current source. ARB waveforms up to Voltage ­monitor ­output. Scalable to 64+ channels with TSP-Link® technology
and I-V measurements. 100kHz. Controls 2182A like 6220, adds pulsed I-V. Programmable ­voltage limit.
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Introduction............................................................... 2
Low Current Measurements
Measurement Circuit............................................... 2
Leakage Currents and Guarding........................ 3
Noise and Source Resistance.............................. 3

Glossary Zero Drift.......................................................................4


Generated Currents................................................. 4
Absolute Accuracy. A measure of the closeness of Common-Mode Rejection R atio (CMRR). The ability of an Fall Time. The time required for a signal to change from a Hall Effect. The measurement of the transverse voltage
Overload Protection................................................ 6
agreement of an instrument reading compared to that of a instrument to reject interference from a common voltage at its large percentage (usually 90%) to a small percentage (usually across a conductor when placed in a magnetic field. With AC Interference and Damping............................ 6
primary standard having absolute traceability to a standard input terminals with respect to ground. Usually expressed in 10%) of its peak-to-peak value. See also Rise Time. this measurement, it is possible to determine the type,
sanctioned by a recognized standards organization. decibels at a given frequency. concentration, and mobility of carriers in silicon. Using a Coulombmeter to
Accuracy is often separated into gain and offset terms. See Faraday Cup. A Faraday cup (sometimes called a Faraday Measure Low Current.............................................. 7
also Relative Accuracy. Common-Mode Current. The current that flows between the cage or icepail) is an enclosure made of sheet metal or mesh. High Impedance Terminal . A terminal where the source
input low terminal and chassis ground of an instrument. It consists of two electrodes, one inside the other, separated resistance times the expected stray current (for example, 1µA) High Resistance Measurements
A/D (Analog -to -Digital) Converter. A circuit used to by an insulator. While the inner electrode is connected to the exceeds the required voltage measurement sensitivity.
convert an analog input signal into digital information. All Common-Mode Voltage. A voltage between input low and electrometer, the outer electrode is connected to ground. Constant-Voltage Method..................................... 8
digital meters use an A/D converter to convert the input signal earth ground of an instrument. When a charged object is placed inside the inner electrode, Input Bias Current. The current that flows at the instrument
into digital information. all the charge will flow into the measurement instrument. The input due to internal instrument circuitry and bias voltage. Constant-Current Method..................................... 8
Contact Resistance. The resistance in ohms between the
contacts of a relay or connector when the contacts are closed electric field inside a closed, empty conductor is zero, so the Input Impedance. The shunt resistance and capacitance (or Guarding....................................................................... 9
Analog Output. An output that is directly proportional to the cup shields the object placed inside it from any atmospheric or
input -signal. or in contact. inductance) as measured at the input terminals, not including
stray electric fields. This allows measuring the charge on the effects of input bias or offset currents. Settling Time............................................................. .10
Assembler. A molecular manufacturing device that can be Contamination. Generally used to describe the unwanted object accurately.
used to guide chemical reactions by positioning molecules. An material that adversely affects the physical, chemical, or Input Offset Current. The difference between the two Low-I Application: Avalanche Photodiode
Feedback Picoammeter. A sensitive ammeter that uses an
assembler can be programmed to build virtually any molecular electrical properties of a semiconductor or insulator.
operational amplifier feedback configuration to convert an
currents that must be supplied to the input measuring Reverse Bias Current Measurements................... 11
structure or device from simpler chemical building blocks. terminals of a differential instrument to reduce the output
D/A (Digital-to -Analog) Converter. A circuit used to input current into voltage for measurement.
convert digital information into an analog signal. D/A
indication to zero (with zero input voltage and offset voltage). High-R Application: Voltage Coefficient
Auto -R anging . The ability of an instrument to automatically Sometimes informally used to refer to input bias current.
switch among ranges to determine the range offering the converters are used in many instruments to provide an isolated Floating . The condition where a common-mode voltage exists Testing of High Ohmic Value Resistors............... .12
analog output. between an earth ground and the instrument or circuit of Input Offset Voltage. The voltage that must be applied
highest resolution. The ranges are usually in decade steps. interest. (Circuit low is not tied to earth potential.) Selector Guide........................................................ .13
directly between the input measuring terminals, with bias
Auto -R anging Time. For instruments with auto-ranging Dielectric Absorption. The effect of residual charge storage current supplied by a resistance path, to reduce the output
capability, the time interval between application of a step after a previously charged capacitor has been discharged Four -Point Probe . The four-point collinear probe resistivity
indication to zero. Glossary.................................................................... .14
momentarily. measurement technique involves bringing four equally
input signal and its display, including the time for determining spaced probes in contact with the material of unknown
and changing to the correct range. Input Resistance. The resistive component of input
Digital Multimeter (DMM). An electronic instrument that resistance. The array is placed in the center of the material. A impedance.
Bandwidth. The range of frequencies that can be measures voltage, current, resistance, or other electrical known current is passed through the two outside probes and
conducted or amplified within certain limits. Bandwidth is parameters by converting the analog signal to digital the voltage is sensed at the two inside probes. The resistivity Insulation Resistance. The ohmic resistance of insulation.
usually specified by the –3dB (half-power) points. information and display. The typical five-function DMM is calculated as follows: Insulation resistance degrades quickly as humidity increases.
measures DC volts, DC amps, AC volts, AC amps, and π V
Johnson Noise. The noise in a resistor caused by the
Bias Voltage. A voltage applied to a circuit or device to resistance. ρ = —— × —— × t × k
establish a reference level or operating point of the device thermal motion of charge carriers. It has a white noise
ln2 I
during testing. Drift. A gradual change of a reading with no change in input spectrum and is determined by the temperature, bandwidth,
signal or operating conditions. where: V = the measured voltage in volts, I = the source and resistance value.
Capacitance . In a capacitor or system of conductors and current in amps, t = the wafer thickness in centimeters, k = a
dielectrics, that property which permits the storage of Dry Circuit Testing . The process of measuring a device while Leakage Current. Error current that flows (leaks) through
correction factor based on the ratio of the probe to wafer
electrically separated charges when potential differences keeping the voltage across the device below a certain level insulation resistance when a voltage is applied. Even high
diameter and on the ratio of wafer thickness to probe
exist between the conductors. Capacitance is related to (e.g., <20mV) in order to prevent disturbance of oxidation or resistance paths between low current conductors and nearby
separation.
the charge and voltage as follows: C = Q/V, where C is the other degradation of the device being measured. voltage sources can generate significant leakage currents.
capacitance in farads, Q is the charge in coulombs, and V is Four-Terminal Resistance Measurement. A measurement
Electrochemical Effect. A phenomenon whereby currents Long -Term Accuracy. The limit that errors will not exceed
the voltage in volts. where two leads are used to supply a current to the unknown,
are generated by galvanic battery action caused by during a 90-day or longer time period. It is expressed as a
and two different leads are used to sense the voltage drop
Carbon Nanotube. A tube-shaped nanodevice formed from contamination and humidity. percentage of reading (or sourced value) plus a number of
across the resistance. The four-terminal configuration provides
a sheet of single-layer carbon atoms that has novel electrical counts over a specified temperature range.
Electrometer. A highly refined DC multimeter. In comparison maximum benefits when measuring low resistances.
and tensile properties. These fibers may exhibit electrical with a digital multimeter, an electrometer is characterized by Maximum Allowable Input. The maximum DC plus peak AC
conductivity as high as copper, thermal conductivity as high Fullerene. Refers to C60, an approximately spherical, hollow,
higher input resistance and greater current sensitivity. It can value (voltage or current) that can be applied between the
as diamond, strength 100 times greater than steel at one- carbon molecule containing 60 carbon atoms arranged in
also have functions not generally available on DMMs (e.g., high and low input measuring terminals without damaging the
sixth of steel’s weight, and high strain to failure. They can be interlocking hexagons and pentagons, reminiscent of the
measuring electric charge, sourcing voltage). instrument.
superconducting, insulating, semiconducting, or conducting geodesic dome created by architect R. Buckminster Fuller.
(metallic). Non-carbon nanotubes, often called nanowires, are EMF. Electromotive force or voltage. EMF is generally used in Sometimes called “buckminsterfullerene” or “buckyball.” MEMS. Microelectromechanical systems. Describes systems
often created from boron nitride or silicon. context of a voltage difference caused by electromagnetic, that can respond to a stimulus or create physical forces
G round Loop. A situation resulting when two or more
electrochemical, or thermal effects. (sensors and actuators) and that have dimensions on the
Channel (switching). One of several signal paths on a instruments are connected to different points on the ground micrometer scale. They are typically manufactured using the
switching card. For scanner or multiplexer cards, the channel Electrostatic Coupling . A phenomenon whereby a current bus and to earth or power line ground. Ground loops can same lithographic techniques used to make silicon-based ICs.
is used as a switched input in measuring circuits, or as a is generated by a varying or moving voltage source near a develop undesired offset voltages or noise.
switched output in sourcing -circuits. For switch cards, each conductor. Micro - ohmmeter. An ohmmeter that is optimized for low
Guarding . A technique that reduces leakage errors and
channel’s signals paths are independent of other channels. For resistance measurements. The typical micro-ohmmeter uses
Error. The deviation (difference or ratio) of a measurement decreases response time. Guarding consists of a conductor
matrix cards, a channel is established by the actuation of a the four-terminal measurement method and has special
from its true value. True values are by their nature driven by a low impedance source surrounding the lead of a
relay at a row and column crosspoint. features for optimum low level measurement accuracy.
indeterminate. See also Random Error and Systematic Error. high impedance signal. The guard voltage is kept at or near
Coaxial Cable. A cable formed from two or more coaxial the potential of the signal voltage.
cylindrical conductors insulated from each other. The
outermost conductor is often earth grounded.
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Introduction............................................................... 2
Low Current Measurements
Measurement Circuit............................................... 2
Leakage Currents and Guarding........................ 3
Noise and Source Resistance.............................. 3

Glossary continued Zero Drift.......................................................................4


Generated Currents................................................. 4
Molecular Electronics . Any system with atomically precise Precision. Refers to the freedom of uncertainty in the Shunt Ammeter. A type of ammeter that measures current by Switching Mainframe . A switching instrument that connects
Overload Protection................................................ 6
electronic devices of nanometer dimensions, especially if measurement. It is often applied in the context of repeatability converting the input current into a voltage by means of shunt signals among sourcing and measuring instruments and AC Interference and Damping............................ 6
made of discrete molecular parts, rather than the continuous or reproducibility and should not be used in place of accuracy. resistance. Shunt ammeters have higher voltage burden and devices under test. A mainframe is also referred to as a
materials found in today’s semiconductor devices. See also Uncertainty. lower sensitivity than do feedback ammeters. scanner, multiplexer, matrix, or programmable switch. Using a Coulombmeter to
Molecular Manipulator. A device combining a proximal- Q uantum Dot. A nanoscale object (usually a semiconductor Shunt Capacitance Loading . The effect on a measurement Systematic Error. The mean of a large number of
Measure Low Current.............................................. 7
probe mechanism for atomically precise positioning with a island) that can confine a single electron (or a few) and in of the capacitance across the input terminals, such as from measurements influenced by systematic error deviates from High Resistance Measurements
molecule binding site on the tip; can serve as the basis for which the electrons occupy discrete energy states, just as they cables or fixtures. Shunt capacitance increases both rise time the true value. See also Random Error.
building complex structures by positional synthesis. would in an atom. Quantum dots have been called “artificial and settling time. Constant-Voltage Method..................................... 8
atoms.” Temperature Coefficient. A measure of the change in
Molecular Manufacturing . Manufacturing using molecular Short-Term Accuracy. The limit that errors will not exceed reading (or sourced value) with a change in temperature. It is Constant-Current Method..................................... 8
machinery, giving molecule-by-molecule control of products R andom Error. The mean of a large number of measurements during a short, specified time period (such as 24 hours) expressed as a percentage of reading (or sourced value), plus
and by-products via positional chemical synthesis. influenced by random error matches the true value. See also of continuous operation. Unless specified, no zeroing or a number of counts per degree change in temperature. Guarding....................................................................... 9
Systematic Error. adjustment of any kind are permitted. It is expressed as Settling Time............................................................. .10
Molecular Nanotechnology. Thorough, inexpensive control percentage of reading (or sourced value) plus a number of Temperature Coefficient of Resistance. The change of
of the structure of matter based on molecule-by-molecule R ange. A continuous band of signal values that can be resistance of a material or device per degree of temperature
control of products and by-products; the products and measured or sourced. In bipolar instruments, range includes
counts over a specified temperature range.
change, usually expressed in ppm/°C. Low-I Application: Avalanche Photodiode
processes of molecular manufacturing, including molecular positive and negative values. Single E lectron Transistor . A switching device that uses Reverse Bias Current Measurements................... 11
machinery. controlled electron tunneling to amplify current. An SET Thermoelectric EMFs . Voltages resulting from temperature
Reading . The displayed number that represents the is made from two tunnel junctions that share a common differences within a measuring circuit or when conductors of High-R Application: Voltage Coefficient
MOSFET. A metal oxide field effect transistor. A unipolar characteristic of the input signal. dissimilar materials are joined together.
device characterized by extremely high input resistance.
electrode. A tunnel junction consists of two pieces of metal Testing of High Ohmic Value Resistors............... .12
Reading R ate. The rate at which the reading number is separated by a very thin (~1nm) insulator. The only way for Thevenin Equivalent Circuit. A circuit used to simplify
Nano -. A prefix meaning one billionth (1/1,000,000,000). updated. The reading rate is the reciprocal of the time electrons in one of the metal electrodes to travel to the other analysis of complex, two-terminal linear networks. The Selector Guide........................................................ .13
between readings. electrode is to tunnel through the insulator. Tunneling is a Thevenin equivalent voltage is the open-circuit voltage and
Nanoelectronics . Electronics on a nanometer scale. Includes discrete process, so the electric charge that flows through the Thevenin equivalent resistance equals the open-circuit Glossary.................................................................... .14
both molecular electronics and nanoscale devices that Relative Accuracy. The accuracy of a measuring instrument the tunnel junction flows in multiples of e, the charge of a voltage divided by the short-circuit current.
resemble current semiconductor devices. in reference to a secondary standard. See also Absolute single electron.
Accuracy. Transfer Accuracy. A comparison of two nearly equal
Nanotechnology. Fabrication of devices with atomic or Source Impedance. The combination of resistance and measurements over a limited temperature range and time
molecular scale precision. Devices with minimum feature Repeatability. The closeness of agreement between capacitive or inductive reactance the source presents to the period. It is expressed in ppm. See also Relative Accuracy,
sizes less than 100 nanometers (nm) are considered products successive measurements carried out under the same input terminals of a measuring instrument. Short-Term Accuracy.
of nanotechnology. A nanometer [one-billionth of a meter conditions.
(10 –9m)] is the unit of length generally most appropriate for Source-Measure Unit (SMU). An electronic instrument that Triboelectric Effect. A phenomenon whereby currents are
describing the size of single molecules. Reproducibility. The closeness of agreement between sources and measures DC voltage and current. Generally, generated by charges created by friction between a conductor
measurements of the same quantity carried out with a stated SMUs have two modes of operation: source voltage and and an insulator.
Nanovoltmeter. A voltmeter optimized to provide nanovolt change in conditions. measure current, or source current and measure voltage. Also
sensitivity (generally uses low thermoelectric EMF connectors, known as source-monitor unit or stimulus measurement unit. Trigger. An external stimulus that initiates one or more
offset compensation, etc.). Resolution. The smallest portion of the input (or output) instrument functions. Trigger stimuli include: an input signal,
signal that can be measured (or sourced) and displayed. SourceM eter . A SourceMeter instrument is very similar to the front panel, an external trigger pulse, and IEEE-488 bus X,
Noise. Any unwanted signal imposed on a desired signal. the source-measure unit in many ways, including its ability to talk, and GET triggers.
Response Time. For a measuring instrument, the time between source and measure both current and voltage and to perform
Normal-Mode Rejection R atio (NMRR). The ability of an application of a step input signal and the indication of its sweeps. In addition, a SourceMeter instrument can display Two -Terminal Resistance Measurement. A measurement
instrument to reject interference across its input terminals. magnitude within a rated accuracy. For a sourcing instrument, the measurements directly in resistance, as well as voltage where the source current and sense voltage are applied
Usually expressed in decibels at a specific frequency such as the time between a programmed change and the availability of and current. It is designed for general-purpose, high speed through the same set of test leads.
that of the AC power line. the value at its output terminals. Also known as Settling Time. production test applications. It can also be used as a source
for moderate to low level measurements and for research Uncertainty. An estimate of the possible error in a
Normal-Mode Voltage. A voltage applied between the high Rise Time. The time required for a signal to change from a small measurement; in other words, the estimated possible deviation
and low input terminals of an instrument. percentage (usually 10%) to a large percentage (usually 90%) applications.
from its actual value.
of its peak-to-peak amplitude. See also Fall Time. Source Resistance. The resistive component of source
Offset Current. A current generated by a circuit even though van der Pauw M easurement. A measurement technique used
no signals are applied. Offset currents are generated by Sensitivity. The smallest quantity that can be measured and impedance. See also Thevenin Equivalent Circuit.
to measure the resistivity of arbitrarily shaped samples.
triboelectric, piezoelectric, or electrochemical effects present displayed. Spintronics . Electronics that take advantage of the spin of an
in the circuit. electron in some way, rather than just its charge. Voltage Burden. The voltage drop across the input terminals
Settling Time. For a measuring instrument, the time of an ammeter.
Overload Protection. A circuit that protects the instrument between application of a step input signal and the indication Standard Cell . An electrochemical cell used as a voltage
from excessive current or voltage at the input terminals. of its magnitude within a rated accuracy. For a sourcing reference in laboratories. Voltage Coefficient. The change in resistance value with
instrument, the time between a programmed change and the applied voltage. Usually expressed in percent/V or in ppm/V.
Picoammeter. An ammeter optimized for the precise availability of the value at its output terminals. Also known as Superconductor. A conductor that has zero resistance. Such
measurement of small currents. Generally, a feedback Response Time. materials usually become superconducting only at very low Warm- up Time. The time required after power is applied to an
ammeter. temperatures. instrument to achieve rated accuracy at reference conditions.
Shielding . A metal enclosure around the circuit being
Piezoelectric Effect. A term used to describe currents measured, or a metal sleeve surrounding the wire Switch Card. A type of card with independent and isolated Zero Offset. The reading that occurs when the input
generated when mechanical stress is applied to certain types conductors (coax or triax cable) to lessen interference, relays for switching inputs and outputs on each channel. terminals of a measuring instrument are shorted (voltmeter) or
of insulators. interaction, or leakage. The shield is usually grounded or open-circuited (ammeter).
connected to input LO.

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