Ph.D. Dissertation Defense by Jeffrey J. McLean
Tuesday, August 17, 2004

(Dr. Levent Degertekin, Chair)

"Interdigital Capacitive Micromachined Ultrasonic Transducers for Microfluidic Applications"


The goal of this research was to develop acoustic sensors and actuators for microfluidic applications. To this end, capacitive micromachined ultrasonic transducers (cMUTs) were developed which generate guided acoustic waves in fluid half-spaces and microchannels. An interdigital transducer structure and a phased excitation scheme were used to selectively excite guided acoustic modes which propagate in a single lateral direction. Analytical models were developed to predict the geometric dispersion of the acoustic modes and to determine the sensitivity of the modes to changes in material and geometric parameters. Coupled field finite element models were also developed to predict the effect of membrane spacing and phasing on mode generation and directionality.

After designing the transducers, a surface micromachining process was developed which has a low processing temperature of 250ºC and has the potential for monolithically integrating cMUTs with CMOS electronics. The fabrication process makes extensive use of PECVD silicon nitride depositions for membrane formation and sealing. The fabricated interdigital cMUTs were placed in microfluidic channels and demonstrated to sense changes in fluid sound speed and flow rate using Scholte waves and other guided acoustic modes. The minimum detectable change in sound speed was 0.25m/s, and the minimum detectable change in flow rate was 1mL/min. The unique nature of the Scholte wave allowed for the measurement of fluid properties of a semi-infinite fluid using two transducers on a single substrate. Changes in water temperature, and thus sound speed, were measured and the minimum detectable change in temperature was found to be 0.1ºC. For fluid pumping, interdigital cMUTs were integrated into microchannels and excited with phase-shifted, continuous wave signals. Highly directional guided waves were generated which in turn generated acoustic streaming forces in the fluid. The acoustic streaming forces caused the fluid to be pumped in a single, electronically-controlled direction. For a power consumption of 43mW, a flow rate of 410nL/min was generated against a pressure of 3.4Pa; the thermodynamic efficiency was approximately 5x10-8%. Although the efficiency and pressure head are low, these transducers can be useful for precisely manipulating small amounts of fluid around microfluidic networks.