Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2012

Degree Type


Degree Name



Electrical and Computer Engineering

First Advisor

Hao Ying

Second Advisor

Gregory Auner


Since 1985 when the first robot PUMA 560 was employed to place a needle during a brain CT biopsy, surgical robots have become ubiquitous in clinical surgeries. Despite its advantages and success in surgeries, the interactions between the robot and the surgeons remain deficient, especially for the pressure sensing which plays an important role. Inspired by our previous work on bacterial sensing, in the current work I have designed, fabricated, analyzed, and evaluated an innovative prototype pressure sensor based on Aluminum Nitride (AlN) Surface Acoustic Wave (SAW) and Shear Horizontal (SH)-SAW. This AlN-based device has unique superiority over other SAW devices, including relatively lower cost, higher sensitivity, intrinsically higher reliability, more compact size, and faster response. In this novel design a sandwich-like structure is adopted and the AlN thin film on the top is used as the insulated layer to make the device applicable in aqueous environment. The delta function analysis and structural mechanics analysis have been performed to validate the proposed design scheme qualitatively. So as to make a quantitative and comprehensive analysis, the numerical computational analysis using finite element method (FEM) has been carried out using the software package COMSOL Multiphysics®. The 2D plane-strain simulation and 3D simplified model simulation have been executed to analyze the device performance with or without insulator. A good agreement has been achieved between the simulation and the experimental measurements, which validates the design scheme and establishes the effectiveness of the device. This SAW/SH-SAW device has been fabricated in the WSU SSIM clean room. The crystalline AlN thin film is deposited on A-plane sapphire with 2 µm thickness using the PSMBE system. The aluminum interdigital transducer (IDT) is evaporated on the AlN thin film with predefined delay-line pattern using the BJD-1800 vacuum deposition system. Another layer of AlN thin film with 1 µm thickness is deposited on the top of the IDT area with some customized masks to make the device insulated.

Furthermore, the differential frequency measurement system has been set up using electronic components to evaluate the system. Several signal processing algorithms are developed and compared to acquire system output. The thermal stability of the differential system is also studied and temperature compensation is developed to improve system robustness. The portable electrical circuit involving the frequency measurement system is finally designed and evaluated. Such a sensor could serve as a key component in artificial skin or be equipped on the end of a surgical robotic arm in the future.