Influence of frequency and environment on the fatigue behavior of monocrystalline silicon thin films

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Theillet, Pierre-Olivier
Pierron, Olivier N.
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Understanding the mechanisms for fatigue crack initiation and propagation in micron-scale silicon (Si) is of great importance to assess and improve the reliability of Si based microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) in harsh environments. Accordingly, this investigation studies the fatigue properties of 10-micron-thick single-crystal Si (SCSi) films using kHz-frequency resonating structures under fully-reversed loading. Overall, the stress plays a major role on the fatigue properties: decreasing the stress amplitude from ~3-3.5 GPa to ~1.5-2 GPa results in an increase in lifetime from 10² to 10¹⁰ cycles, and a decrease in degradation rate by 4-5 orders of magnitude. In addition to stress, the influences of resonant frequency (4 vs. 40 kHz) and environment (30°C, 50%RH vs. 80°C, 30%RH and 80°C, 90%RH) on the resulting S-N curves and resonant frequency evolution are thoroughly investigated. In the high- to very high-cycle fatigue (HCF/VHCF) regime, both the frequency and environment strongly affect the fatigue properties. Damage accumulation rates are significantly higher in harsh environments. In 80°C, 90%RH the rates exceed by one to two orders of magnitude the values at 30°C, 50%RH for similar stress amplitudes. The separate influence of humidity, affecting the adsorbed water layer thickness, is also highlighted at 80°C: the decrease rates are measured up to one order of magnitude lower at 30%RH than at 90%RH. Moreover, a strong influence of frequency is detected. These observations bring further evidence supporting reaction-layer fatigue as a viable description of the HCF/VHCF behavior of micron-scale Si.
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