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ALHigh Density Capacitive Pressure Sensor Array
For Fingerprint Sensor Application
* LET1 - CEA / Ch-enoble
17, rue des Martyrs - F38054 Grenoble CCdex 9 - FRANCE
** SEPT / PEM - 42, rue des Coutures - BP 6243 - 14066 CAEN

This paper reports oni the first technological and
electrical results on the sensitive part of a fingerprint sensor Figure 1 is a cross section of the pressure sensitive cell.
which consists of an X-k' array of absolute pressure Its design has been done for an average pressure of about 0.3
capacitive sensitive cells with a pitch of SOpm. bar exerted by the forefinger on the sensor during
Manufacturing is carried out using a specific CMOS identification. Its dimensions are given in the table 1.
compatible silicon surface micromachining process. Very
good cell sensitivity homogeneity has been measured at a Table I :Dimensions of apressure sensing cell
wafer level thanks to an automatic probe test. Pressure sensor
geometrical parameters and membrane material Young membrane diameter
modulus have been deduced from tests on individual cells.
Results are in good agreemeat with theory and have been
confirmed by deflexion interferometric measurements.

Keywords : Pressure sensor - Array - Fingerprint sensor


For several years, access control by fingerprint

recognition has known a growing interest. For such systems,
optical detection is often used. Hamamatsu [I] has developed
a fingerprint detector based on a direct coupling between a
CCD and fiber optics. Major drawbacks of optical systems are
their high power consumption required for the illumination
and their size which exclude their use for portable equipment.
The use of a high density capacitive array as the
sensitive part of the fingerpirint sensor seems to be more
suitable than the optical based systems for the growing
market of portable equipmenit, mainly because of the low Si3N4
power consumption of the capacitive detection. The working electrodes
principle is the following : finger pressure on the sensitive
array induces local pressures depending on the skin sacrificial layer
topography. The 2D densely arrayed capacitive pressure D Si02
sensor delivers an image of the fingerprint in the form of an N silicon substrate
analogic cartography of the applied pressures. For this
application, the density of sensitive cells is much higher than
the density required for the tactile sensors used in robotic Figure I : Cross section of an individualpressure cell
applications for which pressure sensor arrays were mainly
developed up to now [2, 31. Sugiyama [4] reports on a 32*32
silicon pressure sensor array with a pitch of 2SOpm for a 'The pressure sensitive cells are arranged in a bi-
tactile image detecting system. In comparison, for a dimensional array. Its maximum resolution is imposed by the
fingerprint sensor, the sensitive matrix will typically include 65pm dermatoglyphe mean spacing. The figure 2 is a
128*128 sensors with a pitch of 50pm. photograph of a part of a capacitive pressure sensor array
Today, we have demonstrated the feasibility of such an with a pitch of 50pm.
array. Manufacturing technological aspects are discussed.
Electrical and optical characterisations are presented.

0-7803-3829-4/97/$10.000 1997 IEEE 1453 1997 lnternafional Conference on Solid-state Sensors and Actuators
Chicago, June 16-19, 1997

Authorized licensed use limited to: Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Downloaded on November 26, 2009 at 08:26 from IEEE Xplore. Restrictions apply.


Figue 3 :Macro process flow of the sensor manufacturing

The CMOS compatibility of this process has been

successfully checked on PMOS and NMOS basic electronics
test vehicles : no drift of the characteristics has been
measured on these test vehicles after they had been submitted
to the whole manufacturing process described above (Fig 4).

Figure 2 :Part of apressure sensing cell array

with apitch of 50 pm

Sensor array manufacturing is carried out using a low

temperature CMOS compatible silicon surface
micromachining process. The surface micromachining is a i
suitable technology for the required high density of sensing
cells. The CMOS compatibility allows the electronics to be
integrated on the same wafer as the sensor .This is imposed
by :
- the very weak capacity variation (a few fF) induced on
each sensor by the finger pressure. Consequently, to reduce
0,2 0,3 0,4 0,5 0,6 0,7 0,8 0,9 1 1,l
the noise, the conditioning circuit has to be very close to the ~

sensitive cell.
- the high number of connexions required to read each Figure 4 :Influence of the process on the threshold voltage
cell which excludes any possibility of wire bonding.
of NMOS transistors versus their length. Dotted line :
characteristic after the process
Figure 3 shows the manufacturing macro process flow.
Process is performed on an oxidized silicon wafer. The
thermal oxyde is lpm thick (1). Then successively, bottom
electrode, sacrificial layer and upper electrode are deposited EXPERIMENTAL RESULTS
and etched after a photolithography step (2). Membrane
material, a low stress PECVD silicon nitride, is deposited (3). Electrical tests have been performed at the wafer level
Sacrificial layer is etched through the Si3N4layer (4). The so on a probe tester. This test provides an economical sorting
formed reference pressure chamber is sealed under vacuum means of functional cells. To be able to measure capacity
by a Si3N4PECVD layer (5). Finally, contacts are opened by higher than the parasitic capacity induced by the equipment,
dry etching (6). Temperature of each step of the process measurements were carried out on chips made of 10 pressure
doesn't exceed 300°C. sensing cells connected in parallel. Figure 5 shows the 3D
cartography of the sensitivity on a wafer. Dispersion is
1997 lnfernafionalConferenceon Solid-State Sensors and Actuators 1454
Chicago, June 16-19, 1997

Authorized licensed use limited to: Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Downloaded on November 26, 2009 at 08:26 from IEEE Xplore. Restrictions apply.
mainly due to deposited layer thickness variation, low Table 2 :Statistical measurements
sensitivity being located rather at the center of the wafer. of offset and sensitivity
Nevertheless, the technological homogeneity is quite good.
As it is shown in figures 6 <and7, distributions are gaussian I OfEset mean value (fF'r I 149 I
like. Mean value and mean deviation of the nominal capacity Offset mean deviation (e) 10
and of the sensitivity are summarized in the table 2. Sensitivity mean value (e) 424
Sensitivitv mean deviation (E'r 0.32

More accurate characterisations on individual cells have

been carried out. An experimental assembly comprising an
hermetically sealed box with electrical feedthrough, a
1 pressure generator which controls the box intemal pressure
and an impedance analyser has been set up to precisely
measure the capacity variation of a single pressure sensitive
cell versus the applied pressure. Such a curve is plotted in
figure 8. After a geometrical and mechanical parameter
matching, we found out an excellent correlation between
theoretical and experimental values. For the curve shown in
figure 8, the fitting parameters are the diameter of the
membrane (45.5pm), the diameter of the electrode (25.4pm),
the membrane thickness (0.49pm), the gap between
electrodes (0.40pm). The nominal capacity is 16.7 fF.
Figure 5 : Wafer level cartography of the sensitivity

25 i
structure number


0 0.5 1 15
Applied pressure in Bar

2 2.5
3 35

128/132 136/140 144/148 152/156 1601164 Figure 8 :Capacity of apressure cell versus the applied
interval of offset in fF pressure

Figure 6 :Statistical reparlition of the nominal capacity Such characterisations have allowed the equivalent
Young modulus of the PECVD silicon nitride membrane
material to be accurately determined :

E,, = 14.5 .1OIoPa
1 structure number
20 This value is probably not the intrinsic value of the
material although it is in good agreement with those given in
15 the litterature (14.10"Pa < E < 38.5.10"Pa). It includes some
parasitic effects inherent in the anchorages of the membrane
10 and in the metallic lines running on it . Nevertheless it is
reproducible and will be usefd for further sizing of similar
5 cells.
Individual pressure cells can withstand overpressure up
34/36 36138 38140 40142 42/44 44/46 46/48 48/50 50152 >52
interval of sensitivity in fF to 7 bars. No change in their characteristics have been
detected during further normal working.
Figure 7 :Statistical repartition of the sensitivity measured
on 10 sensitive cells connected in parallel

1455 1997 lnternafional Conference on Solid-state Sensors and Acfuafors
Chicago, June 16-19, 1997

Authorized licensed use limited to: Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Downloaded on November 26, 2009 at 08:26 from IEEE Xplore. Restrictions apply.
Figure 9 shows an interferometric cartography of the CONCLUSION
membrane deflexion. After having been first metallized to
ensure a good reflexion homogeneity, the surface is scanned The feasability of a capacitive pressure sensor array for
by a laser beam. Interferences are built between the scanning fingerprint recognition has been demonstrated using a CMOS
beam and a reference fixed beam. Thus, the number of compatible surface micromachining process. Pressure cells
interference fringes is proportionnal to the altitude of the with a pitch of 50pm have been electrically and optically
reflective surface. The experiment is completly driven by a characterized. The good agreement between results issued
micro-computer and results are delivered in the form of 3D fiom the various experiments, especially for the Young
cartography of the height versus the XY position. This modulus of the membrane material, have allowed a reliable
characterisation highlights irregularities in the membrane mechanical model of the sensor to be elaborated. Next steps
deflexion due to parasitic stresses. They are induced on the will be to integrate the sensor on a CMOS circuit and to test
one hand by the metal lines running on the membrane and on the interface between the sensor and the finger.
the other hand by the peripheric plugs which hermetically
sealed the reference cavity. As it is shown in figure 10
deflexion measurements performed with this method are in
good agreement with those got by other ways and corroborate REFERENCES
the equivalent Young modulus value found fiom electrical
tests. [l] : Hamamatsu - Fiber Optics With CCD Module For
Fingerprint Detection - Preliminary - October 1996
[2] : M.R. Wolffenbuttel, Y.X. Li,D. Poenar, P.J. French,
P.P.L. Regtien and R.F. Wolffenbutte - Multilayer
Membranes for a Tactile Imaging Sensor, Using Surface
Micromachining and FUE - Transducers'93 - Digest of
Technical Papers 284 - 287
[3] : Bart J. Kane, Gregory T.A. Kovacs - A CMOS
Compatible Traction Stress Sensing Element for Use in
High Resolution Tactile Imaging - EurosensorsIX -
Digest of Technical Papers - 648 - 65 1
[4] : Susumu Sugiyama, Ken Kawahata, Masakazu Yoneda,
Isemi Igarashi - Tactile Image Detection Using a lk-
(m -2,25 element Silicon Pressure Sensor Array - Sensors and
Actuators, A21 - 23 (1990) 397 - 400

Figure 9 :Interferometric cartography of a

half of apressure cell

lM) peffexion (nm)

! e---. . .
140 -

100 i \

t - t - i
I ---ltc-+
4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20 22 24
membrane radius [ p m 1
+ deflexion deduced from unit cell capacity measurements
deflexion deduced from geometncal measurements with the intelferometer
. deflexion measurements with the interferometer

Figure I O :Comparison of deflexion measurements got with

diferent ways

1997 lnternafional Conference on Solid-state Sensors a n d Actuators
Chicago, June 16-19, 1997

Authorized licensed use limited to: Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Downloaded on November 26, 2009 at 08:26 from IEEE Xplore. Restrictions apply.