Applications of Non-linearities in RF MEMS Switches and Resonators
Vummidi Murali, Krishna Prasad
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The 21st century is emerging into an era of wireless ubiquity. To support this trend, the RF (Radio Frequency) front end must be capable of processing a range of wireless signals (cellular phone, data connectivity, broadcast TV, GPS positioning, etc.) spanning a total bandwidth of nearly 6 GHz. This warrants the need for multi-band/multi-mode radio architectures. For such architectures to satisfy the constraints on size, battery life, functionality and cost, the radio front-end must be made reconfigurable. RF-MEMS (RF Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems) are seen as an enabling technology for such reconfigurable radios. RF-MEMS mainly include micromechanical switches (used in phase shifters, switched capacitor banks, impedance tuners etc.) and micromechanical resonators (used in tunable filters, oscillators, reference clocks etc.). MEMS technology also has the potential to be directly integrated into CMOS (Complementary metal-oxide semiconductor) ICs (Integrated Circuits) leading to further potential reductions of cost and size. However, RF-MEMS face challenges that must be addressed before they can gain widespread commercial acceptance. Relatively low switching speed, power handling, and high-voltage drive are some of the key issues in MEMS switches. Phase noise influenced by non-linearities, need for temperature compensation (especially Si based resonators), large start-up times, and aging are the key issues in Si MEMS Resonators. In this work potential solutions are proposed to address some of these key issues, specifically the reduction of high voltage drives in switches and the reduction of phase noise in MEMS resonators for timing applications. MEMS devices that are electrostatically actuated exhibit significant non-linearities. The origins of the non-linearities are both electrical (electrostatic actuation) and mechanical (dimensions and material properties). The influence of spring non-linearities (cubic and quadratic) on the performance of switches and resonators are studied. Gold electroplated fixed-fixed beams were fabricated to test the phenomenon of dynamic (or resonant) pull-in in shunt switches. The dynamic pull-in phenomenon was also tested on commercially fabricated lateral switches. It is shown that the resonant pull-in technique reduces the overall voltage required to actuate the switch. There is an additional reduction of total actuation voltage possible via applying an AC actuation signal at the correct non-linear resonant frequency. The demonstrated best case savings from operating at the non-linear resonanceis 50 % (for the lateral switch) and 60 % (for the vertical switch) as compared to 25 % and 40 % respectively using a fixed frequency approach. However, the timing response for resonant pull-in has been experimentally shown to be slower than the static actuation. To reduce the switching time, a shifted-frequency method is proposed where the excitation frequency is shifted up or down by a discrete amount 'Ω after a brief hold time. It was theoretically shown that the shifted-frequency method enables a minimum realizable switching time comparable to the static switching time for a given set of actuation frequencies. The influence of VDC on the effective non-linearities of a fixed-fixed beam is also studied. Based on the dimensions of the resonator and the type of resonance there is a certain VDC,Lin where the response is near linear (S ' 0). In the near-linear domain, the dynamic pull-in is the only upper bound to the amplitude of vibrations, and hence the amplitude of output current, thereby maximizing the power handling capacity of the resonator. Apart from maximizing the output current, it is essential to reduce the amplitude and phase variations of the displacement response which are due to noise mixing into frequency of interest, and are eventually manifested as output phase noise due to capacitive current nonlinearity. Two major aliasing schemes were analyzed and it was shown that the capacitive force non-linearity is the major source of mixing that causes the up-conversion of 1/f frequency into signal sidebands. The resonator's periodic response (displacement) is defined by a set of two first- order nonlinear ordinary differential equations that describe the modulation of amplitude and phase of the response. Frequency response curves of amplitude and frequency are determined from these modulation equations. The zero slope point on the amplitude resonance curve is the peak of the resonance curve where the phase ('dc) of the response is ±π/2. For a strongly non-linear system, the resonance curves are skewed based on the amount of total non-linearity S. For systems that are strongly non-linear, the best region to operate the resonator is the fixed point that correspond to infinite slope ('dc = ±2π/3) in the frequency response of the system. The best case phase noise response was analytically developed for such a fixed point. Theoretically at this fixed point, phase noise will have contributions only from 1/f noise and not from 1/f2 and 1/f3. The resonators phase can be set by controlling the rest of the phase in the loop such that the total phase around the loop is zero or 2π. In addition, this work has also developed an analytical model for a lateral MEMS switch fabricated in a commercial foundry that has the potential to be processed as MEMS on CMOS. This model accounts for trapezoidal cross sections of the electrodes and springs and also models electrostatic fringing as a function of the moving gap. The analytical model matches closely with the Finite Element (FEA) model.
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