IR detection and energy harvesting using antenna coupled MIM tunnel diodes
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The infrared (IR) spectrum lies between the microwave and optical frequency ranges, which are well suited for communication and energy harvesting purposes, respectively. The long wavelength IR (LWIR) spectrum, corresponding to wavelengths from 8um to 15um, includes the thermal radiation emitted by objects at room temperature and the Earth's terrestrial radiation. Therefore, LWIR detectors are very appealing for thermal imaging purposes. Thermal detectors developed so far either demand cryogenic operation for fast detection, or they rely on the accumulation of thermal energy in their mass and subsequent measurable changes in material properties. Therefore, they are relatively slow. Quantum detectors allow for tunable and instantaneous detection but are expensive and require complex processes for fabrication. Bolometer detectors are simple and cheap but do not allow for tunability or for rapid detection. Harvesting the LWIR radiation energy sourced by the Earth's heating/cooling cycle is very important for the development of mobile energy resources. While speed is not as significant an issue here, conversion efficiency is an eminent problem for cheap, large area energy transduction. This dissertation addresses the development of tunable, fast, and low cost wave detectors that can operate at room temperature and, when produced in large array format, can harvest Earth's terrestrial radiation energy. This dissertation demonstrates the design, fabrication and testing of Antenna Coupled Metal-Insulator-Metal (ACMIM) tunnel diodes optimized for 10um wavelength radiation detection. ACMIM tunnel diodes operate as electromagnetic wave detectors: the incident radiation is coupled by an antenna and converted into a 30 terahertz signal that is rectified by a fast tunneling MIM diode. For efficient IR radiation coupling, the antenna geometry and its critical dimensions are studied using a commercial finite-element based multi-physics simulation tool, and the half-wave dipole-like bow-tie antennas are fabricated using simulation-optimized geometries. The major challenge of this work is designing and fabricating MIM diodes and coupled antennas with internal capacitances and resistances small enough to allow response in the desired frequency range (~30 THz) and yet capable of efficiently coupling to the incident radiation. It is crucial to keep the RC time constant of the tunnel junction small to achieve the requisite cut-off frequency and adequate rectification efficiency. Moreover, a low junction resistance is necessary to load the coupled AC power across the MIM junction. For energy harvesting applications, the device has to operate without an external bias, which requires asymmetry at the zero bias operation point. To address these requirements, the MIM tunnel junction is established so that one electrode has a field enhancing sharp tip (cathode) and the other is a rectangular patch. This asymmetric geometry not only offers asymmetric current-voltage behavior at the zero bias point, but also it decouples the junction resistance and capacitance by concentrating the charge transport in a small volume around the tip. Various fabrication methods are developed in order to create small junction area (= low parasitic capacitance), low junction resistance (= effective power coupling through antenna), asymmetry (= zero bias operation), high fabrication yield and low cost ACMIM tunnel diodes. High resolution fabrication needs are accomplished by electron beam lithography and nano-accuracy in the junction area is achieved by employing dose modifying proximity effect correction and critical alignment methods. Our Ni/NiOx/Ni ACMIM diodes with an optimized insulation layer created with O<sub>2</sub> plasma oxidation are the most successful devices presented to date. A novel fabrication technique called "strain assisted self lift-off process" is used to achieve small junction area devices without relying on lithographic resolution. This technique eliminates the rival parasitic capacitance issue of today's ACMIM tunnel diodes and does not rely on extreme-high resolution lithography technologies.