This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Nanoparticle-Based Surface Modifications for Microtribology Control and Superhydrophobicity




Hurst, Kendall M.

Type of Degree



Chemical Engineering


The emergence of miniaturization techniques for consumer electronics has brought forth the relatively new and exciting field of microelectromechanical systems (MEMS). However, due to the inherent forces that exist between surfaces at the micro- and nanoscale, scientists and semiconductor manufacturers are still struggling to improve the lifetime and reliability of complex microdevices. Due to the extremely large surface area-to-volume ratio of typical MEMS and microstructured surfaces, dominant interfacial forces exist which can be detrimental to their operational lifetime. In particular, van der Waals, capillary, and electrostatic forces contribute to the permanent adhesion, or stiction, of microfabricated surfaces. This strong adhesion force also contributes to the friction and wear of these silicon-based systems. The scope of this work was to examine the effect of utilizing nanoparticles as the basis for roughening surfaces for the purpose of creating films with anti-adhesive and/or superhydrophobic properties. All of the studies presented in this work are focused around a gas-expanded liquid (GXL) process that promotes the deposition of colloidal gold nanoparticles (AuNPs) into conformal thin films. The GXL particle deposition process is finalized by a critical point drying step which is advantageous to the microelectromechanical systems and semiconductor (IC) industries. In fact, preliminary results illustrated that the GXL particle deposition process can easily be integrated into current MEMS microfabrication processes. Thin films of AuNPs deposited onto the surfaces of silicon-based MEMS and tribology test devices were shown to have a dramatic effect on the adhesion of microstructures. In the various investigations, the apparent work of adhesion between surfaces was reduced by 2-4 orders of magnitude. This effect is greatly attributed to the roughening of the typically smooth silicon oxide surfaces which, in turn, dramatically decreases the “real are of contact” between two contacting surfaces. The studies found that AuNP thin films produced using the lowest initial concentrations of nanoparticles in solution produced estimated real contact areas of around 1%, reducing the adhesion of oxidized Si (100) surfaces from about 37 mJ/m2 down to 0.02 mJ/m2. In addition, the reducing in real contact area effectively reduced the coefficient of static friction between silicon-based surfaces due to the extremely high dependence of stiction on friction and wear at the microscale. This work also investigated methods of permanently immobilizing AuNP-based films on the silicon surfaces of microstructures in order to create more mechanically robust coatings. The use of organic self-assembled monolayers (SAMs) functionalized with tail-groups known to bond to metallic surfaces were effective in producing much more durable coatings as opposed to non-immobilized AuNP films. Chemical vapor deposition (CVD) techniques were also used to coat rough AuNP films with very thin films of silica (SiO2) to create a robust, rough surface. This method was also very effective in creating a durable coating which is capable of reducing the adhesion energy and friction between two microscale surfaces for extended periods of time. Similar CVD techniques were also used to begin investigating the production of alumina nanoparticle-based superhydrophobic films for use in consumer electronics. Overall, the work presented in this dissertation illustrates that engineered nanoparticle-based surface modifications can be extremely effective in the reduction of the inherent interfacial phenomena that exist on microfabricated systems. This work is can potentially lead us into a new age of the miniaturization of mechanical and electronic devices.