Integrated circuits that incorporate square arrays of superconducting-transition-edge bolometers with optically reflective backshorts are being developed for use in image sensors in the spectral range from far infrared to millimeter wavelengths. To maximize the optical efficiency (and, thus, sensitivity) of such a sensor at a specific wavelength, resonant optical structures are created by placing the backshorts at a quarter wavelength behind the bolometer plane. The bolometer and backshort arrays are fabricated separately, then integrated to form a single unit denoted a backshort-under-grid (BUG) bolometer array. In a subsequent fabrication step, the BUG bolometer array is connected, by use of single-sided indium bump bonding, to a readout device that comprises mostly a superconducting quantum interference device (SQUID) multiplexer circuit. The resulting sensor unit comprising the BUG bolometer array and the readout device is operated at a temperature below 1 K. The concept of increasing optical efficiency by use of backshorts at a quarter wavelength behind the bolometers is not new. Instead, the novelty of the present development lies mainly in several features of the design of the BUG bolometer array and the fabrication sequence used to implement the design. Prior to joining with the backshort array, the bolometer array comprises, more specifically, a square grid of free-standing molybdenum/gold superconducting-transition-edge bolometer elements on a 1.4-μm-thick top layer of silicon that is part of a silicon support frame made from a silicon-on-insulator wafer. The backshort array is fabricated separately as a frame structure that includes support beams and contains a corresponding grid of optically reflective patches on a single-crystal silicon substrate.

The process used to fabricate the bolometer array includes standard patterning and etching steps that result in the formation of deep notches in the silicon support frame. These notches are designed to interlock with the support beams on the backshort-array structure to provide structural support and precise relative positioning. The backshort-array structure is inserted in the silicon support frame behind the bolometer array, and the notches in the frame serve to receive the support beams of the backshort-array structure and thus determine the distance between the backshort and bolometer planes. The depth of the notches and, thus, the distance between the backshort and bolometer planes, can be tailored to a value between 25 to 300 μm adjusting only a few process steps. The backshort array is designed so as not to interfere with the placement of indium bumps for subsequent indium bump-bonding to the multiplexing readout circuitry.

This work was done by Timothy M. Miller, John Abrahams, and Christine A. Allen of Goddard Space Flight Center. GSC-15104-1

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the April, 2011 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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