Low Temperature RF MEMS Inductors Using Porous Anodic Alumina
Oogarah, Tania Brinda
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In today’s communication devices, the need for high performance inductors is increasing as they are extensively used in RF integrated circuits (RFICs). This need is even more pronounced for variable inductors as they are widely required in tunable filters, voltage controlled amplifiers (VCO) and low noise amplifiers (LNA). For RFICs, the main tuning elements are solid state varactors that are used in conjunction with invariable inductors. However, they have limited linearity, high resistive losses, and low self resonant frequencies. This emphasizes the need for developing another tuning element that can be fabricated monolithically with ICs and can offer high range of tuning. Due to the ease of CMOS integration and low cost silicon based IC fabrication, the inductors currently used are a major source of energy loss, therefore driving the overall quality factor and performance of the chip down. During the last decade there has been an increase in research in RF MicroelectroMechanical Systems (RF MEMS) to develop high quality on chip tunable RF components. MEMS capacitors were initially proposed to substitute the existing varactors, however they can not be easily integrated on top of CMOS circuits. RF MEMS variable inductors have recently attracted attention as a better alternative. The research presented here explores using porous anodic alumina (PAA) in CMOS and MEMS fabrication. Due to its low cost and low temperature processing, PAA is an excellent candidate for silicon system integration. At first, PAA is explored as an isolation layer between the inductor and the lossy silicon substrate. Simulations show that although the dielectric constant of the PAA is tunable, the stress produced by the required thicker layers is problematic. Nevertheless, the use of PAA as a MEMS material shows much more promise. Tunable RF MEMS inductors based on bimorph sandwich layer of aluminum PAA and aluminum are fabricated and tested. A tuning range of 31% is achieved for an inductance variation of 5.8 nH to 7.6 nH at 3 GHz. To further improve the Q, bimorph layers of gold and PAA are fabricated on Alumina substrates. A lower tuning range is produced; however the quality factor performance is greatly improved. A peak Q of over 30 with a demonstrated 3% tuning range is presented. Depending on the need for either high performance or tunability, two types of tunable RF MEMS inductors are presented. Although PAA shows promise as a mechanical material for MEMS, the processing parameters (mainly stress and loss tangent) need to be improved if used as an isolation layer. To our knowledge, this is the first time this material has been proposed and successfully used as a structural material for MEMS devices and CMOS processes.