Liquid-phase operation of mems resonators for biochemical sensing in point of care and embedded applications
Beardslee, Luke Armitage
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The purpose of this work is the development of MEMS-based resonant sensors for liquid-phase biochemical sensing applications. Specifically, the sensors developed here are aimed at embedded or point-of-sampling applications: (1) when there is not enough time to send a sample to a lab for analysis, (2) in resource-poor settings, (3) when collecting analyte and shipping it to a lab would damage the sample, or (4) for in-situ monitoring. To this end, a bulk micromachined resonant cantilever sensor and a surface micromachined sensor based on the spring-softening effect are investigated as transducer elements. The developed cantilever resonators are operated in an in-plane vibration mode to reduce fluid damping and mass loading by the surrounding fluid. The surface of the resonator is either coated with a chemically sensitive polymer film for chemical sensing or with a layer of protein or antibody for biosensor testing. Chemical tests for sensing volatile organic compounds using polymer-coated in-plane resonators in the liquid-phase give estimated limits of detection below 100 ppb. In addition, biosensor tests for the detection of anti-IgG yield estimated limits of detection around 100 ng/ml. In an attempt to further improve sensor reliability and to further lower the limits of detection, a second sensing concept has been investigated. The presented sensing scheme is capacitive with a resonator acting as an analog-to-digital converter. The resonator and the sensing capacitors are coupled via the spring softening effect. Through this mechanism a change in capacitance causes a shift in resonant frequency. Extensive device modeling has been performed and a process has been developed allowing for fabrication and on-chip packaging of these sensor structures. Initial mechanical characterization data show that the resonators do in fact vibrate.