We present characterization results of microscopic platinum wires as bolometers. The wire lengths range from 16 μm down to 300 nm. Thus they are in many cases significantly smaller in size than the wavelength of the radiation from the 1200 K blackbody source they were exposed to. We observe a steep rise in both responsivity ℜ and detectivity D * with decreasing wire size, reaching ℜ = 3.1×104 V/W and D * = 2.7×109 cmHz1/2/W at room temperature for a 300×300 nm2 device. Two significant advantages of such small wires as bolometers are their low power requirement and fast response time. Our numerical estimations suggest response times in the order of nanoseconds for the smallest samples. They could help improve resolution and response of thermal imaging devices, for example. We believe the performance may be further improved by optimizing the design and operating parameters.
© 2011 OSA
Microbolometers are widely integrated in various technologies for both military and civilian applications. These include surveillance, security, and thermal imaging. They are made from different materials, e.g. metals or semiconductors . The basic operating principle relies on the change of electrical properties of the device upon absorption of infrared (IR) radiation. Two highly desirable technical attributes for many applications are good sensitivity and fast response. Ease of use and cost can also play an important role for the end user. Semiconductor detectors that rely on excitation of electrons across a small band gap by IR photons usually have a high signal-to-noise ratio and a fast response time, but are selective in wavelength. Also such detectors often depend on complicated fabrication processes. Further, due to the small band gap they are operated at low temperature in vacuum, adding to inconvenience in use and price. Thermal detectors however, make use of the heating effect of the IR radiation. These can be as simple as a thin metallic strip or wire, thus quite straightforward to fabricate, low cost and reliable. They also operate at room-temperature but usually have a slower response (in the millisecond range) and a lower overall performance . A great deal of work has been done on antenna-coupled microbolometers (see e.g. [2–5]) with time constants approaching 100 ns . In this paper we present results of our study on thermal bolometers from lithographically patterned platinum micro- and nanowires. The smallest elements have dimensions significantly smaller than the wavelength of IR radiation being detected. They exhibit detectivity comparable with or higher than other bolometers and we argue that their response time is in the order of ten nanoseconds. Previously, we have studied thermal emission properties of such wires during resistive heating by a DC current. We observed a significant increase in the radiated signal for our narrowest wires [7,8]. With Kirchoff’s law of thermal radiation in mind the question naturally arose whether they would serve well as bolometers.
2. Characterization of responsivity, noise, detectivity and time response
2.1. Samples and experiment
We have fabricated two sets of platinum wires with different dimensions. Set A has widths ranging from 8 μm to 2 μm and lengths from 16 μm to 2 μm. Set B has lengths ranging from 300 nm to 20 μm with a fixed width of 300 nm. Both sets were fabricated on Si/SiO2 (105 nm) substrates using photolithography and e-beam lithography respectively, then DC sputtering and lift-off techniques. The SiO2 layer acts as thermal insulation between the wire and the Si substrate. Below the platinum we deposited 5 nm of chromium and titanium for set A and set B respectively, in order to improve adhesion. The thickness of the platinum layer was 50 nm for both sets. A typical sample is displayed in Fig. 1. It is designed with fine voltage sense leads, and source leads that broaden at the heater ends. This allows us to bias the wire by passing an electrical current through the outer source leads, and at the same time we monitor the resistance through the two inner sensing leads. We carefully characterize the current-voltage properties of our samples and record both their electrical and thermal resistance. The electrical resistance is approximated by:
The performance of bolometers is characterized in terms of responsivity ℜ and noise. Responsivity is defined as the ratio of the output signal generated to the incident power , hence can be expressed as:9]: Figure 2 displays the responsivity as a function of the surface area of the wire. From these results it is clear that as the dimensions of the wires are reduced, responsivity increases. This is to be expected from Eq. (3). A maximum responsivity of 3.1×104 V/W is reached for the 300 nm long sample. The larger, micron-scale, photolithographically defined samples from set A yield a more modest responsivity of around 103 V/W or below.
2.3. Noise and detectivity
A standard figure of merit to evaluate the performance of bolometers is the specific detectivity D *, expressed as :Eq. (4) that noise can severely limit the performance of the device. As it is quite challenging to measure noise in low resistance devices such as ours we estimate the contribution of the main sources: Resistance noise (i.e. Johnson-Nyquist noise), thermal conductance noise (TCN) and 1/ f noise. We use the results to calculate a detectivity for our bolometers. The resistance noise can be expressed as: 11]: 12]. It is a low-frequency, non-equilibrium phenomenon related to DC bias current. It can be expressed by Hooge’s empirical law : 13]) and N 0 the numbers of carriers in the thermo-sensitive layer of the bolometer. Usually, the thermal conductance noise is negligible, and the preponderant noise between the Johnson noise and the 1/ f noise depends on material properties and operating conditions. When evaluating noise according to equations (5), (6) and (7), we chose f = 1 Hz in Eq.(7) as our measurements are done at DC and 1 Hz is a commonly chosen reference point for frequency dependent noise. Figure 3 displays the total noise voltage dependence on length for set B samples. The results indicate that under our measurement conditions the predominant noise source in our platinum thin film bolometers is resistance noise, i.e. Johnson-Nyquist noise. Increase in wire temperature and electrical resistance contribute to the increase in TCN with length. Even at the low frequency of f =1 Hz the 1/ f noise is an order of magnitude weaker than the resistance noise. Combining these results with our data for responsivity gives a measure of detectivity according to Eq. (4). The results are displayed in figure 4. It can be seen that the detectivity increases significantly as area decreases. A maximum detectivity of around 2.7×109 cmHz1/2/W was reached for the square 300 nm long sample. Our platinum bolometers show high responsivity, low noise, and thus high detectivity compared to other reported values, such as a VO2 bolometer (1.94×108 cmHz1/2/W) , poly SiGe (2.3×109 cmHz1/2/W)  or even carbon nanotubes (4.5×105 cmHz1/2/W) . They also have a smaller size and a smaller resistance than most typical bolometers.
2.4. Time response
Another important advantage of using small bolometers is their short response time. A simple estimation of the thermal RC time constant τ is obtained by taking the ratio of thermal capacitance C to the thermal conductance to the surroundings G ,
As an example, an estimation based on cp = 140 J/(kg K) and a sample with lateral dimensions 300×600 nm2 gives C = 2.7×10−14 J/K. With the measured value of thermal resistance Z th = G −1 = 150 K/mW this results in a response time of τ = 4 ns. This estimation agrees very well with our time dependent finite element simulation results . Our previous results have shown that emission spectra from heated wires in the size range of the smaller samples reported here differs appreciably from the blackbody spectrum . (Wires wider than ∼ 1μm do however appear to emit like blackbodies.) Nevertheless our smallest devices do emit very strongly in the energy range of interest, although this is limited to light polarized along the wire axis [7,8,17,18]. Therefore it is not surprising that they are sensitive as radiation detectors in the same regime although this may indicate that they are wavelength selective. Consequently we expect our devices to act as polarization sensitive bolometers. We are presently investigating the detectivity as a function of polarization, the results of which shall be published shortly. We believe that the performance can be improved by optimizing the bias current and the thermal insulation of the wires. Increasing the thermal impedance of the bolometers can be achieved by raising the thickness of the SiO2, using suspended structures or using substrates of low thermal conductivity, e.g. silica aerogel  or Si3N4 .
In summary we have investigated bolometric properties of Pt wires with dimensions in the order of and smaller than the IR wavelength being detected. These are uncooled devices that exhibit responsivity of 3.1×104 V/Wand detectivity of 2.7 ×109 cmHz1/2/W. The design and fabrication of these devices is very simple and can be achieved with state-of-the-art photolithography. The resistance of our devices ranges from several Ω’s to a few hundred Ω. They display comparable detectivity to many more complex bolometers. We estimate numerically their time response in order of nanoseconds. This, together with their smallness should help improve e.g. imaging devices such as scanning thermal microscopes or thermal cameras. Further improvement in their detectivity could be made by optimizing the bias current and the thermal insulation of the wires.
This research was funded in part by the Icelandic Research Fund and the University of Iceland Research Fund.
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