(Invited) Flexible Sensors Based on Low-Temperature Polycrystalline Silicon Thin Film Transistor Technology

Wednesday, 8 October 2014: 09:50
Expo Center, 1st Floor, Universal 4 (Moon Palace Resort)
G. Fortunato, L. Maiolo, F. Maita, A. Minotti (IMM-CNR), S. Mirabella, V. Strano (MATIS IMM-CNR), G. Metta, D. Ricci (RBCS, Italian Institute of Technology), and A. Pecora (IMM-CNR)
Flexible sensors are gaining increasing interest in a number of applications, including biomedical, food control, domotics and robotics, having very light weight, robustness and low cost.  In order to improve signal-to-noise ratio, integration of readout electronics is crucial and several technologies are available for the fabrication of thin film transistor (TFTs) based circuits on flexible substrates. Among these technologies, the low temperature polycrystalline silicon (LTPS) is particularly attractive, since LTPS TFTs show excellent electrical characteristics, good stability and offer the possibility to exploit CMOS architectures. The different aspects for the direct fabrication of LTPS TFTs on polymer substrates are reviewed and the specific fabrication process adopted on ultrathin polyimide (PI) substrates is described in some detail. In particular, LTPS TFTs were fabricated on ultra-thin PI substrates, deposited by spin-coating on a Si wafer, and excimer laser annealing was used to crystallize the Si. Characteristics electrical parameters are: field effect mobility up to 50 cm2/Vs;  threshold voltage of 7 V; on/off ratio >105 . Then, as examples of flexible sensors, we present a tactile sensor for robotic applications and a pH sensor for biomedical applications.

The tactile sensors were designed according to the Piezoelectric Oxide Semiconductor Field Effect Transistor (POSFET) structure, enabling sensing and signal conditioning at same site. In this way, it is possible to improve signal to noise ratio and hence the force sensitivity. In our LTPS POSFET devices we adopted as piezoelectric film the polyvinyledenedifluoride –trifluoroethylene P(VDF-TrFE) polymer. The piezoelectric polymer generates a charge on application of a mechanical force which influences the gate bias of the transistor. Gate bias variations, in turn, are directly reflected into drain current variations, that can be further processed by electronic circuits. The measured response to applied forces is linear, as reported in Fig 1a, with a piezoelectric coefficient up to 47 pC/N. The frequency response was tested in the range 30 - 1200 Hz and presented a high-pass behavior (see Fig.1b), according to the adopted common-source bias configuration.

The pH sensor was fabricated according to the extended gate structure, as this structure offers many advantages over the conventional ISFET, such as the low cost, simple passivation and package, insensitivity of temperature and light, flexibility of shape of the extended-gate structure, and better long-term stability. The sensitive layer of the extended gate is a nanostructured ZnO film selectively deposited on the Al-gate electrode in a chemical bath at low-temperature. The pH-sensitivity was tested by exposing the extended gate to different pH-solutions and using as a reference electrode an Ag/AgCl electrode. In Fig. 2 the transfer characteristics, measured at low Vds and for different pH-solutions, are reported. In the inset of Fig.2, the threshold voltage shift induced by the pH variation is shown, giving a slope of 59 mV/pH for the pH range 1 – 9, close the ideal Nernstian response.  

The present results can pave the way to advanced flexible sensing systems, where sensors and local signal conditioning circuits can be integrated on the same flexible substrate.