Date of Award

Summer 8-2014

Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mechanical Engineering


Maarten P. de Boer


Ohmic nanoswitches have been recently regarded to complement transistors in applications where electrical current leakage is becoming a problem. Although the solid state metal oxide silicon field effect transistor (MOSFET) has fueled a global technology revolution, it is now reaching its performance limits because of device leakage. To avoid electric field-induced damage in MOSFETs, operating voltage and hence threshold voltage must be reduced as linewidth is reduced. However, below a limit, the current cannot be turned off. The ohmic switch approach solves this problem because an air gap that separates the electrical contacts provides excellent electrical isolation when the relay is open. Some applications require these relays to perform billions to trillions of cycles, yet typical devices that are exposed to ambient environment degrade electrically after just a few thousand cycles. A critical challenge here is that trace amounts of volatile hydrocarbons in air adsorb on the electrical contact surfaces for a large variety of coating materials, causing an insulating deposit to form that prevents signal transmission during switch closure. We address this challenge by exploring the interactions of hydrocarbon contaminants with contact materials and operating environment on device lifetime. Our materials of choice are Pt, a common contact material in switch applications due to its resistance to wear, and RuO2, which is believed to be somewhat resistant to hydrocarbon adsorption. We test our devices in N2 and O2 background environments with controlled hydrocarbon contaminant concentrations. We illustrate that the insulating hydrocarbon deposit can be electrically broken down and its resistance lowered. We show how electrical contacts that have degraded electrically due to contamination can have their performance restored to the original level by actuating them in clean N2-O2 environment. It is then shown how this process creates a highly conductive carbonaceous deposit that protects the contact from wear. It is also v demonstrated that RuO2 does not exhibit contaminant-induced degradation even at very high hydrocarbon presence, as long as O2 is also present. These results show that even though the contaminant is ubiquitous in the environment, there are many ways to reduce its effect on ohmic switches.