Three device improvements have been developed that dramatically enhance the contrast ratio of microshutters. The goal of a microshutter is to allow as much light through as possible when the shutters are in the open configuration, and preventing any light from passing through when they are in the closed position. The ratio of the transmitted light that is blocked is defined here as the contrast ratio.

Three major components contribute to the improved performance of these microshutters:

  1. The precise implementation of light shields, which protect the gap around the shutters so no light can leak through. It has been ascertained that without the light shield there would be a gap on the order of 1 percent of the shutter area, limiting the contrast to a maximum of 100.
  2. The precise coating of the interior wall of each microshutter was improved with an insulator and metal using an angle deposition technique. The coating prevents any infrared light that finds an entrance on the surface of the microshutter cell from being emitted from a sidewall. Since silicon is in effect transparent to any light with a wavelength longer than ≈1 micrometer, these coatings are essential to blocking any stray signals when the shutters are closed.
  3. A thin film of molybdenum nitride (MoN) was integrated onto the surface of the microshutter blade. This film provides the majority of light blockage over the microshutter and also ensures that the shutter can be operated over a wide temperature range by maintaining its flatness.

These improvements were motivated by the requirements dictated by the James Webb Space Telescope NIRSpec instrument. The science goals of the NIRSpec require observing some of the very faintest objects in a given field of view that also may contain some very bright objects. To observe the faint objects, the light from the bright objects — which could be thousands of times brighter — must be completely blocked. If a closed microshutter is even slightly transmissive, a very bright object will still transmit a small signal, which can belarger than a signal from a very faint object transmitted through an open shutter. Since this situation can completely corrupt the results, it was necessary that the closed shutters be able to attenuate light by at least a factor of 2,000.

There currently exist four flight-quality microshutter arrays that have been fully or are currently undergoing testing and the results support that the three improvements described above have successfully led to contrast levels >50,000 in over 99 percent of the microshutters at an operating temperature of 35 K. Applications for these high-contrast microshutters are in the photomask generation and stepper equipment used to make integrated circuits and microelectromechanical (MEMS) devices. Since microshutters are a reconfigurable optical element, their versatility in these industries provides an improvement over printed masks and fixed projection alignment systems.

This work was done Murzy Jhabvala, Mary Li, Harvey Moseley, Dave Franz, Yun Zheng, and Alexander Kutyrev of Goddard Space Flight Center. For further information, contact the Goddard Innovative Partnerships Office at (301) 286-5810. GSC-15609-1

Imaging Technology Magazine

This article first appeared in the September, 2009 issue of Imaging Technology Magazine.

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