Xenon difluoride etching of amorphous silicon for release of piezoelectric micromachined ultrasonic transducer structures

Gabriela dos Santos

Research output: ThesisMaster's thesis


Piezoelectric micromachined ultrasonic transducers (PMUT) are devices, which are based on the piezoelectric effect and are used for sensing applications. A typical PMUT structure has diaphragm with a piezoelectric material between thin high conductivity electrode layers. There are several methods which can be used for PMUT structure fabrication, including back- and front-side etching, wafer bonding, and sacrificial layer release. The state-of-the-art methods used currently for PMUT structure fabrication still face several problems. Xenon difluoride (XeF2) etching is a fluorine-based dry vapour etch method that provides highly selective isotropic etch. It is an ideal solution for the release of self-supporting layers within MEMS devices. In this work, XeF2 etching of amorphous silicon (a-Si) for the release of PMUT structures was investigated. Different designs with varying dimensions were tested and characterized. The XeF2 etching process demonstrated to be efficient and very fast compared to other methods used for PMUT/MEMS release etching. Results from the optimization tests on the XeF2 process demonstrated total etching of 2 µm thick a-Si. Structures with sizes from 50 to 500 µm diameter were completely released after only 20 minutes of etching. Additionally, this work demonstrates that the etching rate of XeF2 is also influenced by the size, shape and location of the via openings. Furthermore, sputtered aluminium nitride AlN piezo layer process optimization and residual stress control contributed to the fabrication of suspended structures. All observed structures from 50 to 500 µm diameter which used AlN in the structural layer were suspended after release.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationMaster Degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Franssila, Sami, Supervisor, External person
  • Saarilahti, Jaakko, Advisor
  • Thanniyil Sebastian, Abhilash, Advisor
Award date19 May 2020
Publication statusPublished - 24 May 2020
MoE publication typeG2 Master's thesis, polytechnic Master's thesis


  • Pizoelectric ultrasonic transducers (PMUT)
  • xenon difluoride (XeF2)
  • amorphous silicon (a-Si)
  • aluminium nitride (AlN)
  • thin film stress
  • sacrificial layer


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