Date of Award


Level of Access

Open-Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Electrical and Computer Engineering


Mauricio Pereira da Cunha

Second Committee Member

Donald H. Hummels

Third Committee Member

Paul J. Millard


Recent advances in microbiology, computational capabilities, and microelectromechanical-system fabrication techniques permit modeling, design, and fabrication of low-cost, miniature, sensitive and selective liquid-phase sensors and labon- a-chip systems. Such devices are expected to replace expensive, time-consuming, and bulky laboratory-based testing equipment. Potential applications for devices include: fluid characterization for material science and industry; chemical analysis in medicine and pharmacology; study of biological processes; food analysis; chemical kinetics analysis; and environmental monitoring. When combined with liquid-phase packaging, sensors based on surface-acoustic-wave (SAW) technology are considered strong candidates. For this reason such devices are focused on in this work; emphasis placed on device modeling and packaging for liquid-phase operation. Regarding modeling, topics considered include mode excitation efficiency of transducers; mode sensitivity based on guiding structure materials/geometries; and use of new piezoelectric materials. On packaging, topics considered include package interfacing with SAW devices, and minimization of packaging effects on device performance.

In this work novel numerical models are theoretically developed and implemented to study propagation and transduction characteristics of sensor designs using wave/constitutive equations, Green’s functions, and boundary/finite element methods. Using developed simulation tools that consider finite-thickness of all device electrodes, transduction efficiency for SAW transducers with neighboring uniform or periodic guiding electrodes is reported for the first time. Results indicate finite electrode thickness strongly affects efficiency. Using dense electrodes, efficiency is shown to approach 92% and 100% for uniform and periodic electrode guiding, respectively; yielding improved sensor detection limits. A numerical sensitivity analysis is presented targeting viscosity using uniform-electrode and shear-horizontal mode configurations on potassium-niobate, langasite, and quartz substrates. Optimum configurations are determined yielding maximum sensitivity. Results show mode propagation-loss and sensitivity to viscosity are correlated by a factor independent of substrate material. The analysis is useful for designing devices meeting sensitivity and signal level requirements. A novel, rapid and precise microfluidic chamber alignment/bonding method was developed for SAW platforms. The package is shown to have little effect on device performance and permits simple macrofluidic interfacing. Lastly, prototypes were designed, fabricated, and tested for viscosity and biosensor applications; results show ability to detect as low as 1% glycerol in water and surface-bound DNA crosslinking.