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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Temperature-Compensated and High-Q Piezoelectric Aluminum Nitride Lamb Wave Resonators for Timing and Frequency Control Applications

  • Author(s): Lin, Chih-Ming
  • Advisor(s): Pisano, Albert P.
  • et al.

The explosive development of wireless and mobile communication systems has lead to rapid technology innovation in component performance, complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) compatible fabrication techniques, and system improvement to satisfy requirements for faster signal processing, cost efficiency, chip miniaturization, and low power consumption. The demands for the high-performance communication systems whose fundamentals are precise timing and frequency control have driven the current research interests to develop advanced reference oscillators and radio frequency (RF) bandpass filters. In turn a promising microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) resonator technology is required to achieve the ultimate goal. That is, micromechanical vibrating resonators with high quality factor (Q) and good frequency-temperature stability at high series resonance frequency (fs) are the required fundamental components for a high-performance wireless communication system.

Recently, Lamb wave mode propagating in piezoelectric thin plates has attracted great attention for designs of the electroacoustic resonators since it combines the advantages of bulk acoustic wave (BAW) and surface acoustic wave (SAW): high phase velocity and multiple frequency excitation by an interdigital transducer (IDT). More specifically, the Lamb wave resonator (LWR) based on an aluminum nitride (AlN) thin film has attracted many attentions because it can offer the high resonance frequency, small temperature-induced frequency drift, low motional resistance, and CMOS compatibility. The lowest-order symmetric (S0) Lamb wave mode propagation in the AlN thin plate is particularly preferred because it exhibits a phase velocity close to 10,000 m/s, a low dispersive phase velocity characteristic, and a moderate electromechanical coupling coefficient. However, the uncompensated AlN LWR shows a first-order temperature coefficient of frequency (TCF) of approximately -25 ppm/C. This level of the temperature stability is unsuitable for any timing application. In addition, the Q of the AlN LWR is degraded to several hundred while the IDT finger width is downscaled to a nanometer scale to raise the resonance frequency up to a few GHz.

This dissertation presents comprehensive analytical and experimental results on a new class of temperature-compensated and high-Q piezoelectric AlN LWRs. The temperature compensation of the AlN LWR using the S0 Lamb wave mode is achieved by adding a layer of silicon dioxide (SiO2) with an appropriate thickness ratio to the AlN thin film, and the AlN/SiO2 LWRs can achieve a low first-order TCF at room temperature. Based on the multilayer plate composed of a 1-um-thick AlN film and a 0.83-um-thick SiO2 layer, a temperature-compensated LWR operating at a series resonance frequency of 711 MHz exhibits a zero first-order TCF and a small second-order TCF of -21.5 ppb/C^2 at its turnover temperature, 18.05 C. The temperature dependence of fractional frequency variation is less than 250 parts per million (ppm) over a wide temperature range from -55 to 125 C. In addition to the temperature compensation at room temperature, the thermal compensation of the AlN LWRs is experimentally demonstrated at high temperatures. By varying the normalized AlN and SiO2 thicknesses to the wavelength, the turnover temperature can be designed at high temperatures and the AlN LWRs are temperature-compensated at 214, 430, and 542 C, respectively. The temperature-compensated AlN/SiO2 LWRs are promising for a lot of applications including thermally stable oscillators, bandpass filters, and sensors at room temperature as well as high temperatures.

The influences of the bottom electrode upon the characteristics of the LWRs utilizing the S0 Lamb wave mode in the AlN thin plate are theoretically and experimentally studied. Employment of a floating bottom electrode for the LWR reduces the static capacitance in the AlN membrane and accordingly enhances the effective coupling coefficient. The floating bottom electrode simultaneously offers a large coupling coefficient and a simple fabrication process than the grounded bottom electrode but the transduction efficiency is not sacrificed. In contrast to those with the bottom electrode, an AlN LWR with no bottom electrode shows a high Q of around 3,000 since it gets rid of the electrical loss in the metal-to-resonator interface. In addition, it exhibits better power handling capacity than those with the bottom electrode since less thermal nonlinearity induced by the self-heating exists in the resonators.

In order to boost the Q, a new class of the AlN LWRs using suspended convex edges is introduced in this dissertation for the first time. The suspended convex edges can efficiently reflect the Lamb waves back towards the transducer as well as confine the mechanical energy in the resonant body. Accordingly the mechanical energy dissipation through the support tethers is significantly minimized and the Q can be markedly enhanced. More specifically, the measured frequency response of a 491.8-MHz LWR with suspended biconvex edges yields a Q of 3,280 which represents a 2.6x enhancement in Q over a 517.9-MHz LWR based on the same AlN thin plate but with the suspended flat edges. The suspended convex edges can efficiently confine mechanical energy in the LWR and reduce the energy dissipation through the support tethers without increasing the motional impedance of the resonator. In addition, the radius of curvature of the suspended convex edges and the AlN thickness normalized to the wavelength can be further optimized to simultaneously obtain high Q, low motional impedance, and large effective coupling coefficient.

To further enhance the Q of the LWR, a composite plate including an AlN thin film and an epitaxial cubic silicon carbide (3C-SiC) layer is introduced to enable high-Q and high-frequency micromechanical resonators utilizing high-order Lamb wave modes. The use of the epitaxial 3C-SiC layer is attractive as SiC crystals have been theoretically proven to have an exceptionally large fs and Q product due to its low acoustic loss characteristic at microwave frequencies. In addition, AlN and 3C-SiC have well-matched mechanical and electrical properties, making them a suitable material stack for the electroacoustic resonators. The epitaxial 3C-SiC layer not only provides the micromechanical resonators with a low acoustic loss layer to boost their Q but also enhances the electromechanical coupling coefficients of some high-order Lamb waves in the AlN/3C-SiC composite plate. A micromachined electroacoustic resonator utilizing the third quasi-symmetric (QS3) Lamb wave mode in the AlN/3C-SiC composite plate exhibits a Q of 5,510 at 2.92 GHz, resulting in the highest fs and Q product, 1.61x10^13 Hz, among suspended piezoelectric thin film resonators to date.

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