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Microwave LIGA-MEMS variable capacitors



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Microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) devices have been increasing in popularity for radio frequency (RF) and microwave communication systems due to the ability of MEMS devices to improve the performance of these circuits and systems. This interdisciplinary field combines the aspects of lithographic fabrication, mechanics, materials science, and RF/microwave circuit technology to produce moving structures with feature dimensions on the micron scale (micro structures). MEMS technology has been used to improve switches, varactors, and inductors to name a few specific examples. Most MEMS devices have been fabricated using planar micro fabrication techniques that are similar to current IC fabrication techniques. These techniques limit the thickness of individual layers to a few microns, and restrict the structures to have planar and not vertical features. One micro fabrication technology that has not seen much application to microwave MEMS devices is LIGA, a German acronym for X-ray lithography, electroforming, and moulding. LIGA uses X-ray lithography to produce very tall structures (hundreds of microns) with excellent structural quality, and with lateral feature sizes smaller than a micron. These unique properties have led to an increased interest in LIGA for the development of high performance microwave devices, particularily as operating frequencies increase and physical device size decreases. Existing work using LIGA for microwave devices has concentrated on statically operating structures such as transmission lines, filters, and couplers. This research uses these unique fabrication capabilities to develop dynamically operating microwave devices with high frequency performance. This thesis documents the design, simulation, fabrication, and testing of MEMS variable capacitors (varactors), that are suitable for fabrication using the LIGA process. Variable capacitors can be found in systems such as voltage-controlled oscillators, filters, impedance matching networks and phase shifters. Important figures-of-merit for these devices include quality factor (Q), tuning range, and self-resonant frequency. The simulation results suggest that LIGA-MEMS variable capacitors are capable of high Q performance at upper microwave frequencies. Q-factors as large as 356 with a nickel device layer and 635 with a copper device layer, at operational frequency, have been simulated. The results indicate that self-resonant frequencies as large as 45 GHz are possible, with the ability to select the tuning range depending on the requirements of the application. Selected capacitors were fabricated with a shorter metal height for an initial fabrication attempt. Test results show a Q-factor of 175 and a nominal capacitance of 0.94 pF at 1 GHz. The devices could not be actuated as some seed layer metal remained beneath the cantilevers and further etching is required. As such, LIGA fabrication is shown to be a very promising technology for various dynamically operating microwave MEMS devices.



actuator, electrostatic, x-ray, lithography, microelectromechanical, varactors



Master of Science (M.Sc.)


Electrical Engineering


Electrical Engineering



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