Ultra-low power microbridge gas sensor
Aguilar, Ricardo Jose
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A miniature, ultra-low power, sensitive, microbridge gas sensor has been developed.The heat loss from the bridge is a function of the thermal conductivity of thegas ambient. Miniature thermal conductivity sensors have been developed for gaschromatography systems  and microhotplates have been built with MEMS technologywhich operates within the mW range of power . In this work a lower power microbridgewas built which allowed for the amplification of the effect of gas thermalconductivity on heat loss from the heated microbridge due to the increase inthe surface-to-volume ratio of the sensing element. For the bridge fabrication,CMOS compatible technology, nanolithography, and polysilicon surfacemicromachining were employed. Eight microbridges were fabricated on each die,of varying lengths and widths, and with a thickness of 1 μm. A voltagewas applied to the sensor and the resistance was calculated based upon thecurrent flow. The response has been tested with air, carbon dioxide, helium,and nitrogen. The resistance and temperature change for carbon dioxide was thegreatest, while the corresponding change for helium was the least. Thus the selectivity of the sensor todifferent gases was shown, as well as the robustness of the sensor. Another aspect of the sensor is that it hasvery low power consumption. The measuredpower consumption at 4 Volts is that of 11.5 mJ for Nitrogen, and 16.1 mJ forHelium. Thesensor responds to ambient gas very rapidly. The time constant not only showsthe fast response of the sensor, but it also allows for more accuratedetection, given that each different gas produces a different correspondingtime constant from the sensor. The sensor is able to detect differentconcentrations of the same gas as well. Fromthe slopes that were calculated, the resistance change at 5 Volts operation wasfound to be 2.05mΩ/ppm, 1.14 mΩ/ppm at 4.5 Volts, and 0.7 mΩ/ppm at 4 Volts. Thehigher voltages yielded higher resistance changes for all of the gases thatwere tested. Theversatility of the microbridge has been studied as well. Experiments were donein order to research the ability of a deposited film on the microbridge, inthis case tin oxide, to act as a sensing element for specific gases. In thissetup, the microbridge no longer is the sensing element, but instead acts as aheating element, whose sole purpose is to keep a constant temperature at whichit can then activate the SnO film, making it able to sense methane. In conclusion,the microbridge was designed, fabricated, and tested for use as an electrothermalgas sensor. The sensor responds to ambient gas very rapidly with differentlevels of resistance change for different gases, purely due to the differencein thermal conductivity of each of the gases. Not only does it have a fastresponse, but it also operates at low power levels. Further research has beendone in the microbridge's ability to act as a heating element, in which the useof a SnO film as the sensing element, activated by the microbridge, was studied. REFERENCES: 1. D. Cruz,J.P. Chang, S.K. Showalter, F. Gelbard, R.P. Manginell, M.G. Blain," Microfabricated thermal conductivity detector for themicro-ChemLabTM," Sensors andActuators B, Vol. 121 pp. 414-422, (2007). 2. A. G. Shirke, R. E. Cavicchi, S. Semancik, R. H. Jackson, B.G. Frederick, M. C. Wheeler. "Femtomolar isothermal desorption usingmicrohotplate sensors," J Vac Sci TechnolA, Vol. 25, pp. 514-526 (2007).