Modelling, fabrication and development of GaN-based sensors and substrates for high strain environments

  • Michael Edwards

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


GaN is a monocrystalline material that can be grown using metallo-organic chemical vapour deposition (MOCVD), and has desirable mechanical and semiconducting properties for operating as a sensor. It has a Young’s modulus of 250 to 350 GPa, which shows little decrease with respect to temperature beyond 400°C. GaN also exhibits piezoelectric and piezoresistive effects, meaning that it will generate a charge and its electrical resistance will change when the material is strained respectively. In this PhD, GaN has been used as the base material for pressure sensors that potentially can be used in excess of 400°C and at a pressure in excess of 50 bar (5 MPa), with potential applications in aerospace and oil exploration. The pressure sensor is a circular diaphragm created from a GaN/sapphire wafer, and was designed and tested in order to determine if GaN can act as a sensing material in these environments.In addition to the diaphragm sensor, GaN templates that can potentially be used for sensors were grown using an epitaxial layer overgrowth (ELOG) method. These sensors are potentially more mechanically robust than similar templates etched out of GaN/sapphire wafers because they will have less inbuilt strain due to lower dislocation densities. It was possible to release beams and cantilevers from GaN ELOG templates. Mechanical probe tests were undertaken on these devices to see if they were fully released and robust.GaN single crystal growth requires a substrate material, such as (111) silicon or (0001) sapphire, meaning that the thermal properties of the substrate are important for a device operating in excess of 400°C. GaN high electron mobility transistors are heat sensitive, experiencing a decrease in current between the drain and source terminals as the temperature increases. Therefore a GaN-based sensor needs a substrate with the highest possible thermal conductivity to act as a heat sink, which means removing as much heat as possible from the GaN sensor. Diamond has superior thermal conductivity to both sapphire and silicon, so a novel silicon/polycrystalline diamond composite substrate has been developed as a potential GaN substrate. Polycrystalline diamond (PD) can be grown on 4 inch diameter wafers using hot filament chemical vapour deposition (CVD), on (111) silicon (Si) from which single crystal GaN epitaxy can also be grown.In order for the (111) Si/PD composite substrates to be useful heat sinks, the Si layer needs to be less than 2 m. PD was initially grown on 525 to 625 m thick Si wafers that required thinning to 2 m. Achieving this Si layer thickness is difficult due to the presence of tensile stress in the Si caused by a mismatch in the coefficients of thermal expansion (CTEs) between Si and PD. This stress causes the wafer to bow significantly and has been modelled using ANSYS FE software. The models show that the bow of the wafer increases when it is thinned, which will eventually cause the Si layer to delaminate at the Si/PD interface due to poor adhesion and a build up for shear stress. When the Si layer is mechanically thinned, the Si layer can crack due to clamping. The experimental wafer bow and micro-Raman measurements validate the model for when the silicon layer is thicker than 100 m and these results show that an alternative processing route is required.
Date of Award31 Dec 2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorChris Bowen (Supervisor) & Duncan Allsopp (Supervisor)


  • GaN
  • piezoelectric
  • CVD diamond
  • ELOG
  • strain sensors

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