SYSTEM-LEVEL APPROACHES FOR IMPROVING PERFORMANCE OF CANTILEVER-BASED CHEMICAL SENSORS
Carron, Christopher John
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This work presents the development of different technologies and techniques for enhancing the performance of cantilever-based MEMS chemical sensors. The developed methods address specifically the sensor metrics of sensitivity, selectivity, and stability. Different techniques for improving the quality and uniformity of deposited sorbent polymer films onto MEMS-based micro-cantilever chemical sensors are presented. A novel integrated recess structure for constraining the sorbent polymer layer to a fixed volume with uniform thickness was developed. The recess structure is used in conjunction with localized polymer deposition techniques, such as inkjet printing and spray coating using shadow masking, to deposit controlled, uniform sorbent layers onto specific regions of chemical sensors, enhancing device performance. The integrated recess structure enhances the stability of a cantilever-based sensor by constraining the deposited polymer layers away from high-strain regions of the device, reducing Q-factor degradation. Additionally, the integrated recess structure enhances the sensitivity of the sensor by replacing chemically-inert silicon mass with ‘active’ sorbent polymer mass. Finally, implementation of localized polymer deposition enables the use of sensor arrays, where each sensor in the array is coated with a different sorbent, leading to improved selectivity. In addition, transient signal generation and analysis for mass-sensitive chemical sensing of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the gas phase is investigated. It is demonstrated that transient signal analysis can be employed to enhance the selectivity of individual sensors leading to improved analyte discrimination. As an example, elements of a simple alcohol series and elements of a simple aromatic ring series are distinguished with a single sensor (i.e. without an array) based solely on sorption transients. Transient signals are generated by the rapid switching of mechanical valves, and also by thermal methods. Thermally-generated transients utilize a novel sensor design which incorporates integrated heating units onto the cantilever and enables transient signal generation without the need for an external fluidic system. It is expected that the thermal generation of transient signals will allow for future operation in a pulsed mode configuration, leading to reduced drift and enhanced stability without the need for a reference device. Finally, A MEMS-based micro thermal pre-concentration (µTPC) system for improving sensor sensitivity and selectivity is presented. The µTPC enhances sensor sensitivity by amplifying low-level chemical concentrations, and is designed to enable coarse pre-filtering (e.g. for injection into a GC system) by means of arrayed and individually-addressable µTPC devices. The system implements a suspended membrane geometry, enhancing thermal isolation and enabling high temperature elevations even for low levels of heating power. The membranes have a large surface area-to-volume ratio but low thermal mass (and therefore, low thermal time constant), with arrays of 3-D high aspect-ratio features formed via DRIE of silicon. Integrated onto the membrane are sets of diffused resistors designed for performing thermal desorption (via joule heating) and for measuring the temperature elevation of the device due to the temperature-dependent resistivity of doped silicon. The novel system features integrated real-time chemical sensing technology, which allows for reduced sampling time and a reduced total system dead volume of approximately 10 µL. The system is capable of operating in both a traditional flow-through configuration and also a diffusion-based quasi-static configuration, which requires no external fluidic flow system, thereby enabling novel measurement methods and applications. The ability to operate without a forced-flow fluidic system is a distinct advantage and can considerably enhance the portability of a sensing system, facilitating deployment on mobile airborne platforms as well as long-term monitoring stations in remote locations. Initial tests of the system have demonstrated a pre-concentration factor of 50% for toluene.