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Lead-zirconate-titanate-based piezoelectric micromachined switch

S. J. Gross,a) S. Tadigadapa, and T. N. Jackson
Department of Electrical Engineering, The Pennsylvania State University,
University Park, Pennsylvania 16802
S. Trolier-McKinstry
Department of Materials Science & Engineering, The Pennsylvania State University,
University Park, Pennsylvania 16802
Q. Q. Zhang
Geospace Research, El Segundo, California 90245
共Received 27 November 2002; accepted 3 May 2003兲
A piezoelectric microelectromechanical switch actuated by lead zirconate titanate 共PZT兲 is reported.
A PZT unimorph cantilever actuator, fabricated on a sacrificial polysilicon layer and released using
a xenon difluoride dry etch, was used to realize the switch. The PZT thin film was poled and driven
with interdigitated electrodes to exploit the d33 coefficient for switching actuation. Preliminary dc
and rf switching characteristics are reported. Measurements indicate a fast switching ‘‘on’’ time of
⬍2 ␮s and ‘‘off’’ time of 2 ␮s at an actuation voltage of ⬍40 V. An on/off isolation of ⬎25 dB was
achieved up to 100 MHz. © 2003 American Institute of Physics. 关DOI: 10.1063/1.1589192兴

In this letter, a piezoelectric microelectromechanical sequently the potential for conversion to mechanical work is
switch is presented. The switch uses a PbZr0.52Ti0.48O3 共PZT兲 much greater.8 This difference can lead to lower actuation
cantilever actuator in the d33 mode to achieve switching op- voltages and faster switching speeds. Normally-off electro-
eration and high speed. This work is motivated by the recent static switches rely upon the elastic restoring force of the
advances that have made microelectromechanical systems moving structure for achieving the off state. Since the restor-
共MEMS兲 rf components attractive as replacements for con- ing force is smaller than the closing force, opening is slower,
ventional crystal resonators, filters, and semiconductor leading inevitably to design trade-offs. Piezoelectric strains
switches.1 Application areas that stand to benefit from these can be either positive or negative 共within the limits set by the
emerging rf MEMS technologies include satellite and wire- reorientation of the domain state in a ferroelectric film兲 and
less communication systems, commercial and military radar, can therefore be used actively to turn the switch off as well
global positioning systems, and instrumentation systems.2 as on. This characteristic allows the design of larger contacts
Typical semiconductor switches, such as GaAs field-effect for high-power capability as well as improved reliability due
transistors and p – i – n diodes, currently used in these appli- to mitigated stiction effects.
cations exhibit high insertion losses (S 21) of 1–2 dB or Ferroelectric PZT thin films with high piezoelectric co-
greater, and poor isolation in the off state due to parasitics.3 efficient d33⫽120 pC/N have been used as the active
On the contrary, MEMS switches have demonstrated signifi- material.9,10 Despite the high coefficient, the strain generated
cant improvements with insertion losses of less than 0.1 dB by these perovskite ceramic thin films is typically small, on
up to 40 GHz and very high isolation 共⬎27 dB兲 when turned the order of 0.1%. Therefore, a bending structure is used to
off.2,3 In addition, MEMS switches typically consume negli- increase the deflection at the expense of the force. Figure
gible power during each switching cycle. Signal switching is 1共a兲 shows a schematic representation of the current uni-
accomplished by the mechanical deflection of a suspended morph 共heterogeneous bimorph兲 design, and Fig. 1共b兲 shows
structure yielding a metal-to-metal contact or capacitive cou- a scanning electron microscope 共SEM兲 image of a fabricated
pling. Various actuation methods have been investigated in- switch with dc transmission lines. The unimorph is com-
cluding electrostatic,4 electromagnetic,5 thermal, and posed of a PZT active layer on top of a passive stack of
piezoelectric.6 At present, the majority of MEMS switches zirconia (ZrO2 ) and silicon nitride (Six Ny ). With the inter-
employ electrostatic actuation. However, electrostatic actua- digitated 共IDT兲 electrode configuration the PZT is poled in
tion is a nonlinear mechanism, and usually requires high the transverse direction and actuated in the d33 mode.11,12
voltages to operate, especially if high-frequency operation is The electrode width is 3 ␮m with a separation of 6 ␮m. The
desired. Switching times below 10 ␮s typically require maximum deflection and blocking force in a unimorph are
greater than 50 V.7 achieved by optimizing the thickness ratio of the passive/
Exploiting an alternative actuation method such as the active materials.13 Residual stresses in deposited thin films
converse piezoelectric effect is expected to lead to a substan- often result in out-of-plane bending of the cantilevers, which
tial improvement in device performance. The energy density adversely affects performance, and if severe enough, can pre-
available in ferroelectric thin films such as PZT is at least an vent switch closure completely. Therefore, the structures
order of magnitude greater than with electrostatics, and sub- were stress compensated by controlling the PZT thickness.
Fabrication begins with an insulating substrate, in this
Electronic mail: case an oxidized 共1.5-␮m兲 silicon wafer. A sacrificial poly-

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Appl. Phys. Lett., Vol. 83, No. 1, 7 July 2003 Gross et al. 175

FIG. 2. Switching response 共top兲 to a 1-Hz 20-Vpeak-peak⫹10-Vdc square

wave 共bottom兲.

observe the switching behavior when actuated by short

pulses. Figure 3共a兲 shows an oscilloscope trace of a 30-V,
4-␮s pulse 共top兲 and the switch response 共bottom兲. The noise
seen on the bottom trace during switching is a result of cou-
pling between the IDT electrodes and contact. Figure 3共b兲
shows the response to a pulse of higher voltage but same
duration: 50 V, 4 ␮s. As can be seen, the switching on time is
decreased from 2.5 to about 1.5 ␮s, while the switching off
time remains constant. Preliminary results using a gain-phase
analyzer 共HP4194A兲 have demonstrated that signals up to
FIG. 1. 共a兲 Schematic illustration of unimorph switch and 共b兲 SEM image of
130-␮m cantilever switch with transmission lines.

silicon 共2 ␮m兲 is deposited by low-pressure chemical vapor

deposition methods, and a thin thermal oxide 共50 nm兲 is
grown to act as a barrier layer. Low-stress 共400-MPa兲 silicon
nitride 共0.5 ␮m兲 is deposited as the structural material. A thin
silicon oxide 共50 nm兲 is sputter deposited to promote adhe-
sion of the remaining layers with the nitride. A buffer layer
of 0.3-␮m zirconia and 0.23-␮m PZT are spun on using sol-
gel techniques. The material stack is then patterned using a
combination of ion milling and reactive ion etching. The
contact at the end of the cantilever is deposited by sputter
deposition and patterned by lift-off. The field polysilicon is
then etched away, terminating on the thick substrate oxide. A
blanket Cr/Au is sputter deposited at an angle off normal to
coat below the contact. This blanket layer is etched to define
the transmission lines and IDT electrodes. The final structure
release is attained by dry etching the sacrificial polysilicon in
gaseous XeF2 . 14 A more detailed account of the fabrication
process is presented in Ref. 15.
The completed switches were first tested using 2 V dc on
the transmission lines, with the switch shunting the output
signal to ground when on. A buffer amplifier is used to pro-
vide a high input impedance and a 300-k⍀ resistor is used to
limit the current passed through the contacts. Figure 2 shows
the switching response to a 1-Hz 0–20-V square wave input
superimposed on 10 V dc. The oscilloscope trace demon-
strates that the switch opens and closes concurrently with the
applied signal. Closer examination reveals a 2-␮s switching
time between the off state and the on state, and the same for FIG. 3. Switching response 共bottom trace兲 to 30-V 共a兲 and 50-V 共b兲 2-␮s
switching off. The next series of tests were conducted to pulse 共top trace兲.
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176 Appl. Phys. Lett., Vol. 83, No. 1, 7 July 2003 Gross et al.

100 MHz can be switched, with approximately 30 dB of quency. Fast switching compared with resonance frequencies
isolation between the on and off states. has also been observed in electrostatic switches.2
These results correspond to a device with a cantilever In conclusion, we have fabricated and tested a transverse
length of 230 ␮m 共27 IDT electrodes兲, a width of 100 ␮m mode piezoelectric microswitch based on ferroelectric PZT
and a 1.1-␮m thickness. The measured fundamental reso- thin films. A robust fabrication process using ion milling and
nance frequency, f 0 ⫽19 kHz, matches to within 10% of dry release in XeF2 to avoid stiction-related problems has
theory. An analysis of the switching time begins with a dy- been developed. Initial measurements have demonstrated
namic model for a one-degree-of-freedom system. The equa- relatively high switching speeds 共1–2 ␮s兲, and ⬃30-dB iso-
tion of motion is given as lation between on and off states at 100 MHz. The actuation
voltage of these piezoelectric switches is expected to be
d 2z dz lower with better stress compensation, more closely spaced
F⫽m ⫹b ⫹kz, 共1兲
dt 2 dt IDT electrodes, or by the use of a bimorph design. Improved
performance at higher frequencies is expected with rf trans-
where m is the mass, z is the position of the tip at time t, k is
mission lines and by using insulating substrates.
the spring constant of the cantilever, and F, the internal
force, is generated by the piezoelectric effect. All forms of The authors gratefully acknowledge support from the
damping, including squeeze damping, have been ignored; b U.S. Army and the Northrop Grumman Corporation.
⫽0.2 The force is modeled as a step function by ignoring the
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