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The Strength of Polycrystalline Silicon at the Micro- and Nano-Scales with Applications to MEMS


Chasiotis, Ioannis (2002) The Strength of Polycrystalline Silicon at the Micro- and Nano-Scales with Applications to MEMS. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/JPRZ-P277.


Three aspects concerning the reliability of MicroElectroMechanical Systems (MEMS) are discussed in this work. These aspects are: (1) the development of a new tensile testing technique for measuring the elastic modulus and rupture strengths of thin films, (2) an assessment of stress concentration and specimen size effects in failure of micron-sized specimens and (3) the consequences of Hydrofluoric Acid (HF) chemical treatment on the microstructural integrity and the tensile strength of polycrystalline silicon.

A new method for tensile testing of thin films by means of an improved apparatus has been developed to measure the elastic properties (Young's modulus, tensile strength) of surface micromachined polycrystalline silicon specimens. The newly designed tensile tester makes use of an Ultraviolet (UV) light curable adhesive to clamp micron-sized specimens. It permits for the first time the testing of thin film materials possessing high failure strength. The properties determination utilizes surface topologies of deforming specimens, acquired with an Atomic Force Microscope (AFM), for determining strain fields by means of Digital Image Correlation (DIC). This full-field, direct and local measurements technique provides the capability of testing any type of thin film materials with nanometer resolution. The gage section of the specimens tested in this study varied between 200 and 1000 µm in length, 6 and 50 µm in width, all for a nominal thickness of 2 µm.

The dependence of fracture strength on micron and sub-micron sized geometries was studied by means of specimens containing various degrees of stress concentrations. A systematic study of small-scale size effects was thus performed by tensioning elliptically perforated specimens (minimum radius of curvature of 1 gm) so as to: (a) vary the stress concentration with constant radius of curvature, (b) increasing radius of curvature of micronotches relative to the grain size. The results demonstrate a strong influence of the size of the highly strained domain (decreasing notch radii) on the failure strength of MEMS scale specimens, while the effect of varying the stress concentration factor is rather insignificant. In addition, tests performed on unnotched tensile specimens of varying dimensions revealed a specimen size effect by which the values of strength scaled with the specimen length. The Young's modulus, however, is found to be rather insensitive to the specimen dimensions at the scale of microns.

In an effort to assess the unexplained and puzzling large variation in properties reported for very small polysilicon specimens a study was conducted to search for a cause. Contrary to the common belief that 49% HF wet release represents a safe post-process for manufacturing polycrystalline silicon, this study has clearly identified the release process as a key item in determining thin film failure properties. It is found that surface roughness as characterized by groove formation at the grain boundaries depends distinctly on the HF release time. In addition, while the actual failure mechanism in polysilicon follows a transgranular fracture, moderate exposure in HF results in partial intergranular fracture at the film surface that is responsible for complete failure. Long exposures yield films of low mechanical strength that demonstrate clear intergranular failure.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Aeronautics and Materials Scjence
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Engineering and Applied Science
Major Option:Aeronautics
Minor Option:Materials Science
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Knauss, Wolfgang Gustav
Thesis Committee:
  • Goodwin, David G. (chair)
  • Knauss, Wolfgang Gustav
  • Ustundag, Ersan
  • Tai, Yu-Chong
  • Ravichandran, Guruswami
Defense Date:6 July 2001
Record Number:CaltechETD:etd-09142005-105805
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:3529
Deposited By: Imported from ETD-db
Deposited On:14 Sep 2005
Last Modified:15 Jan 2022 00:34

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