Argonne National Laboratory Center for Nanoscale Materials U.S. Department of Energy

CNM Garners Share of R&D 100 Award

CMOS wafer

Silicon-on-Sapphire CMOS wafer

UNCD Layers

Integrated RF-MEMS capacitive switch based on ultrananocrystalline diamond as a dielectric

See how this switch works (mpg video)

Four technologies developed by researchers at Argonne National Laboratory have won R&D 100 awards in 2011. The awards, organized by R&D Magazine, have been given out annually since 1962 for the top high-technology products of the year and are considered to be the "Oscars of Innovation."

One of the awards involved two staff members from the Center for Nanoscale Materials (CNM) Nanofabrication and Devices Group: Orlando Auciello, lead developer (joint appointment CNM and Argonne's Materials Science Division), and Anirudha Sumant, among several other industrial partners. The invention was titled, "The Integrated Radio Frequency (RF) Microelectromechanical System (MEMS) Switch/Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor (CMOS) Device."

The RF MEMS Switch CMOS Device

Argonne and industry researchers developed an RF MEMS switch that can extend by two to three times the power of battery-operated electronic devices such as cell phones. Reliability has inhibited deployment of RF MEMS switches into military or commercial radar and mobile communication systems, mainly because of failure related to electrical charging of the oxide or nitride dielectric layers currently used on top of the bottom electrode, which result in the mechanically moving switch membrane getting stuck to that layer when closed. The oxide or nitride layers exhibit fast electrical charging (10s of µsec) and slow discharging (100s of sec), the latter resulting in the switch failure.

Under a four-year Argonne-led R&D program funded by the U.S. Department of Defense's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), novel ultrananocrystalline diamond (UNCD) dielectric-layer was developed at CNM by using a unique 915-MHz microwave plasma chemical vapor deposition (CVD) system and a hot-filament CVD system at Advanced Diamond Technology. The unique nanostructure of the (UNCD layer with extensive grain boundary network results in fast charging (~100 µsec) and fast discharging (~100 µsec), which is 100,000 to a million times faster than the discharging of oxide and nitride dielectric layers used conventionally, thus eliminating the RF MEMS switch failure. The DARPA program also demonstrated for the first time the monolithic integration of RF UNCD-MEMS switches with CMOS devices, with the latter driving the switch via CMOS voltage activation of the switch.

The monolithically integrated RF-UNCD MEMS switch/CMOS devices will enable the next generation of communications devices to more seamlessly handle data, voice, audio, and video simultaneously while supporting multiple radio frequency systems operating in several different frequency bands ranging from megahertz to gigahertz.

In the News

July 2011

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