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Characterization of MEMS

thermal actuators


Murali Ghatkesar (

Submission Date 20MAR17, 23:59h for Group A

27MAR17, 23:59h for Group B
on the blackboard


NAME 1 :

NAME 2 :

NAME 3 :

NAME 4 :

NAME 5 :

AIM: To be able to understand the working principle of different MEMS thermal

TASK: Take measurement on different thermal actuators at different conditions,

analysis and understand the data, model a MEMS thermal actuator and write a
report. The report is written as answers to the questions asked in the handout.
Please add an introduction, conclusions and team members contribution.

The assignment consists of three parts. The first part discusses different types of
thermal actuators, and a description on how the measurement box works. Then, there
is a practical part involving measuring the displacement of the actuators and their
speed of operation. In the third part you deduce the maximum operating temperature
of such an actuator from the theory and your measurements.




MEMS thermal actuators make use of the fact that materials (typically) expand when
they get hotter, due to their coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE). An extreme case
can be seen when rails buckle in extremely hot weather, resulting in a catastrophic
bending failure (Fig. 1). The displacements may be small, but the forces can be pretty

Figure 1. Failure of rails due to thermal expansion.

In MEMS, typically thermal expansion property of materials is used to obtain

actuation. Variety of tricks is used to obtain amplification of actuation. Fig. 2 shows
three common thermal actuator configurations that are used in MEMS. We will
investigate the first two in this practical course.

Hot beam

Cool beam

Anchors Anchor Anchor Anchor Anchor

Hot/cold beam Displaced contact point Chevron type

Figure 2. Three common MEMS thermal actuator configurations (top view: all parts except
the anchors are suspended). In each case, the actuator is made to move by sending current
from one anchor to the other.


Two types of MEMS thermal actuators described in the previous section were
fabricated in the commercial MEMSCAP POLYMUMPs (POLYcrystalline Multi-
User MEMS Process). The devices are wire-bonded in a 16-pin chip carrier package.
The chip carrier is located in a box, which contains the electronics (Fig. 3) needed for
actuation (voltage applied to the actuator) and measurement (the current flow through
the actuator).

(D) (E) Power on LEDs




MEMSswitch (F)
MEMSchip (A)

Figure 3. Measurement box showing all the connections and the switch

A = Chip with MEMS thermal devices in a Dual In-line Package (DIP) chip
carrier. Important: Do not touch the chip, you may damage the MEMS.
Ask one of the supervisors if you have questions.

B = Positive power supply (red), +10V.

C = Ground (0V)
D = Negative power supply (green), -10V.
E = LEDs will glow if the positive and negative terminals of power supply are
connected correctly and the power supply is turned-on.
F = Knob to switch between different MEMS devices on the chip (there are 6
devices on the chip to choose)
G = Input for moving the MEMS device (amplified before it reaches the MEMS
H = Measured current through the device, converted to an output voltage

If you are not sure about the connections, please consult instructors

Figure 4. The thermal actuator box internal electronics


In Fig. 4 the circuit diagram of the electronics inside of the MEMS thermal actuator
box is shown.

There is an input protection circuit (2 voltage divider + diodes), and a first opamp
(U1) that amplifies the signal 20x, to the appropriate level for steering the thermal
actuator. With the switch, the MEMS device is selected that is to be measured. The
current going through the MEMS device is measured by monitoring the voltage across
the R9 resistor at the input of the second opamp. The second and third opamp together
(U4:A and U4:B) amplify this voltage by 100x, to a large, robust output voltage that is
a measure of the current through the MEMS device. The output is also protected
(diodes + resistor) from the outside world with a resistor and diodes. The power
supply voltage coming from an external power supply is regulated inside the box to
+6V and - 6V, which is so low that even when it 'clips' (the output saturates to one of
the power supplies), the first opamp will not send a destructively high voltage to the
MEMS device.

Question A
Explain the working principle of the devices shown in Fig 2, and what kind of motion
do they produce.

Question B
Analyze the circuit and answer the following:

1. What is the output voltage of the first opamp U1 for an input voltage of
100mV, as set on the function generator? Take into account the voltage divider
at the input of the opamp, and the 50 output resistance of the function
generator that you are using to send signal to the input of the box. Draw the
schematic with all resistor values .
2. If you measure the input voltage of the function generator on an oscilloscope
while the function generator is connected to the measurement box, do you then
have to take the 50 into account?
3. What is the output voltage for 10mA of current through the MEMS thermal
4. By how much will the 1k output resistance of the box change the reading of
a 1M input resistance oscilloscope? Is this a problem in this measurement?

2 3

1 4

Figure 5. The layout of the wirebonded devices. The numbers on the outer-side next to the
devices indicate the switch position. Number 16 at the center indicates the die number on the
wafer (ignore for your experiment, can also be 14 or 15).


Question C
1. To measure the deflection of the MEMS devices for different input values (at
port G), choose square waveform shown on left with signal offset to zero.
Choose an appropriate device (may be device 1) and apply different voltages
to check if the device moves. Now switch to the waveform shown on the right.
Does the device move? Explain?

2. Measure the deflection of one device (may be device 1) at different actuation
voltages (about 7 points per device). Record movie at 50x magnification for
your deflection measurement later. Note the input and output voltage peak
values for each measurement. Use this value to calculate (later) the amount of
current flowing through the MEMS.

The pointer has readout beams on the moving head with 2.0 m beam width /
2.0m space, and a 1:0.9 Vernier scale with the fixed beams opposite to it. Use
this scale to measure the amount of deflection obtained for each input setting.
(You may use any image processing software as well)

3. Plot the following graphs of the measurements for each device: displacement
versus voltage, and displacement versus current. Are the graphs linear?
Discuss your observations from the graphs. (Do it after lab hours)

4. Thermal actuators respond to the heating power, not directly to the applied
voltage. Now plot displacement versus dissipated power from the above data.
Discuss your observations comparing the previous graphs. (Do it after lab

5. Calculate the resistance of the heater? (Do it after lab hours)

Question D (Measuring thermal time constant)

Thermal actuators are usually slow responding devices with time and sometimes
(based on the design) could be difficult to operate mechanical structures in resonance.
This is caused by the thermal time constants involved in heating and cooling of the
device. Fortunately, in MEMS, these constants are quite short, because the devices
have low thermal mass and thermal capacity. Even though the time constants are
short, it is difficult to measure them with microscope and camera. So we use the
following method to find the time constant of the devices.

Use an offset on your square wave input voltage to make sure that your signal that
goes to the MEMS has only a single polarity. We use the fact that the p-doped
polycrystalline silicon, from which the devices are made, has a temperature-dependent
resistivity. The material used has a positive temperature coefficient of resistance.
When a square wave pulse is applied, the device heats up instantaneously. However,
the resistivity of the device increases with heat and hence its resistance. If you zoom
(signal peak and time base) into the measured output signal at the instant when input
was applied, a trail is seen before the device reaches its thermal equilibrium. From
this thermal trail, you can measure the thermal time constant. The time required from
initial state to 63.2% of final equilibrium state should give thermal time constant.

Take a picture (with your smart phone) of the thermal trail on your oscilloscope with
the relevant data displayed on the screen for your later analysis. Describe in words (or
graphs) what you see, and measure the thermal constant. Explain your observations on
how fast the device can be operated before the thermal time constant takes over.

Visual observation of the effect of time constant on the oscilloscope

Initially actuate the device at a low frequency, and increase the frequency until you
see a reduction in the peak-peak amplitude of the device motion. Reduction happens
when you do not give enough time for the device to cool down. The frequency value
at which it starts to decrease should give you an estimate of the thermal time constant.
You can also see that the output voltage saturates to a constant value.

Question E
What is the difference between coefficient of thermal expansion and temperature
coefficient of resistance? (Get the values for the material gold from Wikipedia.) What
is the their origin? Both can contribute to the resistance of a beam, explain how do
they contribute and which one is dominant and by how much?


Do this part after you have finished the practical work!

Understanding the behavior of MEMS thermal actuators basically involves two

questions: 1) To what temperature does an object rise under the influence of a certain
heating power, and 2) How much will the object expand due to the temperature

The length-temperature relationship is given as by L L L 1 eT , where L is

the original length of an object, L is the change in length due to temperature change
T, and e is the CTE.

The MEMSLAB actuators have the following properties:

Thickness of the poly-Si layer in which they have been etched: 2.0m
Width of all poly-Si free standing beams: 2.0m
For the polysilicon heater material, the e = 2.49 106 K1 [1]
Fig. 5 shows some device dimensions. Unless otherwise mentioned, the pointer length
is 300m in all devices; the definition of the beam length and distance between the
beams is given in Fig. 6.

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Figure 6. Definition of the MEMS thermal actuator beam properties

In a simplified model of this device, the pointer beam is pushed from both sides by
the horizontal beams connected to the anchors. A small displacement due to these
horizontal-pushing beams will rotate the vertical pointer beam around a point midway
where two horizontal beams are connected to the pointer. This configuration results in
large displacement of the vertical pointer beam leading to amplification. This causes
the tip of the pointer to move much more than the pushing beams connected to the

Question F
For your device

1. Make a basic model for the motion, as outlined above, and calculate the
'amplification' factor
2. What was the maximum power you used for the device? This power has
heated the device to a certain temperature, resulting in a certain maximum
3. Determine how much the beams connected to the anchor have expanded to
give the deformation you measured at this power.
4. Knowing the CTE of the material (given above), what was the maximum
temperature change T you reached in the beams during the experiment?

Question G
All the devices, shown in Fig 2 produce in-plane motion. Any ideas on how to obtain
out-of-plane actuation?

Question H
List some applications where such devices can be useful?

[1] H.-Y. Liu, Z.-F. Zhou, W.-H. Li and Q.-A. Huang, An online test structure for the thermal expansion
coefficient of surface micromachined polysilicon beams by a pull-in approach, J. Micromech.
Microeng. Vol. 22, 2012, p. 055017