Purdue University Graduate School

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Switchable and Tunable MEMS Devices in GaN MMIC Technology

posted on 2023-12-20, 14:27 authored by Imtiaz AhmedImtiaz Ahmed

Rapid evolution in wireless technology and the increasing demand for high bandwidth communication for 5G/6G and the Internet of Things (IoT) have necessitated a growing number of components in radio front-end modules in an increasingly overcrowded radio frequency (RF) spectrum. Low-cost ad-hoc radios have drawn consumer interest, enabling new devices like microelectromechanical (MEMS) resonators for on-chip clocking, frequency-selective filters, RF signal processing, and spectral sensing for their small footprint and low power consumption. Gallium nitride (GaN) is an attractive electromechanical material due to its high coupling coefficient, acoustic velocity, and low viscoelastic losses. These benefits enable high-Q MEMS resonators in GaN monolithic microwave integrated circuits (MMICs) with scaling capability up to mm-wave frequencies, making this technology platform a contender for high-performance programmable radios in RF/mm-wave, sensors for harsh environments, and information processing in quantum systems.

The bias-dependent control mechanism of the 2D electron gas (2DEG) in GaN heterostructures can be exploited to design different switchable and tunable devices for reconfigurable MEMS components. This work presents, for the first time, a comprehensive study of the electromechanical performances of different transduction mechanisms in switchable GaN MEMS resonators. A unique OFF-state shunt design, where the 2DEG in an AlN/GaN heterostructure is utilized to control electromechanical transduction in Lamb mode resonators, is also experimentally demonstrated in this work. To make a valid comparison among switchable transducers, equivalent circuit models are developed to extract key parameters from the measurements by fitting them in both ON and OFF states. The switchable transducer with Ohmic interdigitated transducers (IDTs) and Schottky control gate shows superior performance among the designs under consideration with complete suppression of the mechanical mode in the OFF state and a maximum frequency-quality factor product of 5x1012s-1 and a figure-of-merit of 5.18 at 1GHz in the ON state.

Over the past few years, there have been numerous efforts to scale the frequencies of MEMS devices in the GaN platform towards mm-wave frequencies. However, challenges remain due to the multi-layer thick buffer, typical in the growth of GaN epilayer on a substrate. This work presents the investigation of SweGaN QuanFINE buffer-free and ultrathin GaN-on-SiC for the performance of surface acoustic wave (SAW) devices beyond 10GHz. Finite element analysis (FEA) is performed to find the range of frequencies for the Sezawa mode in the structure. Transmission lines and resonators are designed, fabricated, and characterized. Modified Mason circuit models are developed for each class of devices to extract critical performance metrics and benchmark with the state-of-the-art and theoretical limits for GaN. Sezawa modes are observed at frequencies up to 14.3GHz, achieving a record high in GaN MEMS to the best of our knowledge. A maximum piezoelectric coupling of 0.61% and frequency-quality factor product of 6x1012s-1 are achieved for Sezawa resonators at 11GHz, with a minimum propagation loss of 0.26dB/λ for the two-port devices. The devices also exhibit high linearity with input third-order intercept points (IIP3) of 65dBm at 9GHz.

This work also investigates tunable acoustoelectric (AE) devices in the QuanFINE platform, leveraging its inherent 2DEG in the AlGaN/GaN heterostructure. Using 9.7GHz Sezawa mode acoustic delay lines, we report the highest frequency of AE in GaN to date. Active and passive AE devices are designed for voltage-dependent non-reciprocity and propagation loss without modification to the standard process for the High Electron Mobility Transistors (HEMTs) in MMICs. Drain/source Ohmic contacts control the drift velocity of the 2DEG, and the Schottky gate modulates 2DEG carrier concentration, resulting in a 30dB/cm separation between forward and reverse acoustic waves for a 2.56kV/cm lateral DC electric field and a maximum change in propagation loss of 50dB/cm for -5V DC at the control gate, respectively. The QuanFINE technology with AlGaN/GaN heterostructure enables a platform for switchable MEMS resonators and tunable acoustoelectric devices in MMICs for reconfigurable front end approaching mm-wave frequencies.




Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Electrical and Computer Engineering

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Dana Weinstein

Additional Committee Member 2

Dimitrios Peroulis

Additional Committee Member 3

Sunil Bhave

Additional Committee Member 4

Zhihong Chen