Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Mechanical Engineering

Major Professor

Rasim Guldiken, Ph.D.


Film stress, PECVD, Radius of curvature, Deflection, CMUT


Thin films have become very important in the past years as there is a tremendous increase in the need for small-scale devices. Thin films are preferred because of their electrical, mechanical, chemical, and other unique properties. They are often used for coatings, and in the fabrication of Microelectronic devices and Micro-electro Mechanical Systems (MEMS). Internal (residual) stress always exists when a thin film is employed in the device design. Residual and thermal stresses cause membrane bow, altering the anticipated dynamic response of a membrane-based MEMS design. The device may even become inoperable under the high stresses conditions. As a result, the stresses that act upon the membrane should be minimized for optimum operation of a MEMS device. In this research, the fabrication process parameters leading to low stress silicon nitride films were investigated.

Silicon nitride was deposited using Plasma Enhanced Chemical Vapor Deposition (PECVD) and the residual stresses on these films were determined using a wafer curvature technique. By adjusting the silane (SiH4) and nitrogen (N2) gas flow rates, and the radiofrequency (RF) power; high quality silicon nitride films with residual stress as low as 11 MPa were obtained. Furthermore, an analytical study was also conducted to explore the effect of thermal stresses between layers of thin films on the MEMS device operation. In this thesis, we concentrated our efforts on three layers of thin films, as that is the most commonly encountered in a membrane based MEMS device. The results obtained from a parametric study of the membrane center deflection indicate that the deflection can be minimized by the appropriate choice of materials used.

In addition, our results indicate that thin films with similar coefficient of thermal expansion should be employed in the design to minimize the deflection of the membrane, leading to anticipated device operation and increased yield. A complete understanding of the thermal and residual stress in MEMS structures can improve survival rate during fabrication, thereby increasing yield and ultimately reducing the device cost. In addition, reliability, durability, and overall performance of membrane-based structures are improved when substrate curvature and membrane deflection caused by stresses are kept at a minimum.