Electrochemical sensor system architecture using the CMOS-MEMS technology for cytometry applications.
PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.
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This thesis presents the development process of an integrated sensor-system-on-chip for recording the parameters of blood cells. The CMOS based device consists of the two flow-through sensor arrays, stacked one on top of the other. The sensors are able to detect the biological cell in terms of its physical size and the surface charge on a cell’s membrane. The development of the measurement system was divided into several stages these were to design and implement the two sensor arrays complemented with readout circuitry onto a single CMOS chip to create an on-chip membrane with embedded flow-through micro-channels by a CMOS compatible post-processing techniques to encapsulate and hermeti-cally package the device for liquid chemistry experiments, to test and characterise the two sensor arrays together with readout electronics, to develop control and data acquisition software and to detect the biological cells using the complete measurement system. Cy-tometry and haematology fields are closely related to the presented work, hence it is envis-aged that the developed technology enables further integration and miniaturisation of the biomedical instrumentation.
The two vertically stacked 4 x 4 flow-through sensor arrays, embedded into an on-chip membrane, were implemented in a single silicon chip device together with a readout circuitry for each of the sensor sets. To develop a CMOS-MEMS device the design and fabrication was carried out using a commercial process design kit (0.35 µm 4-Metal, 2-Poly, CMOS) as well as the foundry service. Thereafter the device was post-processed in-house to develop the on-chip membrane and open the sensing micro-apertures. The two types of sensor were integrated on the silicon dice for multi-parametric characterisation of the analyte. To read the cell membrane charge the ion sensitive field effect transistor (ISFET) was utilised and for cell size (volume) detection an impedance sensor (Coulter counter) was used. Both sensors rely on a flow-through mode of operation, hence the constant flow of the analyte sample could be maintained. The Coulter counter metal electrode was exposed to the solution, while the ISFET floating gate electrode maintained contact with the analyte through a charge sensitive membrane constructed of a dielectric material (silicon dioxide) lining the inside of the micro-pore. The outside size of each of the electrodes was 100 µm x 100 µm and the inside varied from 20 µm x 20 µm to 58 µm x 58 µm. The sense aperture size also varied from 10 µm x 10 µm to 16 µm x 16 µm. The two stacked micro-electrode arrays were layed out on an area of 5002 µm2.
The CMOS-MEMS device was fit into a custom printed circuit board (PCB) chip carrier, thereafter insulated and hermetically packaged. Microfluidic ports were attached to the packaged module so that the analyte can be introduced and drained by a flow-through mode of operation. The complete microfluidic system and packaging was assembled and thereafter evaluated for correct operation. Undisturbed flow of the analyte solution is es-sential for the sensor operation. This is related to the fact that the electrochemical response of both sensors depends on the analyte flow through the sense micro-apertures thus any aggregation of the sample within the microfluidic system would cause clogging of the mi-cro-pores.
The on-chip electronic circuitry was characterised, and after comparison with the simulated results found to be within an error margin of what enables it for reliable sensor signal readout.
The measurement system is automated by software control so that the bias parame-ters can be set precisely, it also helped while error debugging. Analogue signals from the two sensor arrays were acquired, later processed and stored by a data acquisition system. Both control and data capture systems are implemented in a high level programming lan-guage. Furthermore both are integrated and operated in a one window based graphical user interface (GUI).
A fully functional measurement system was used as a flow-through cytometer for living cells detection. The measurements results showed that the system is capable of single cell detection and on-the-fly data display.
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