Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)


Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Department name when degree awarded

Mechanical Engineering

Committee Chair(s)

Leila Ladani


Leila Ladani


R. Rees Fullmer


Stephen A. Whitmore


Due to the current public demand of faster, more powerful, and more reliable electronic devices, research is prolific these days in the area of high electron mobility transistor (HEMT) devices. This is because of their usefulness in RF (radio frequency) and microwave power amplifier applications including microwave vacuum tubes, cellular and personal communications services, and widespread broadband access. Although electrical transistor research has been ongoing since its inception in 1947, the transistor itself continues to evolve and improve much in part because of the many driven researchers and scientists throughout the world who are pushing the limits of what modern electronic devices can do. The purpose of the research outlined in this paper was to better understand the mechanical stresses and strains that are present in a hybrid AlGaN (Aluminum Gallium Nitride) / GaN (Gallium Nitride) HEMT, while under electrically-active conditions. One of the main issues currently being researched in these devices is their reliability, or their consistent ability to function properly, when subjected to high-power conditions.

The researchers of this mechanical study have performed a static (i.e. frequency-independent) reliability analysis using powerful multiphysics computer modeling/simulation to get a better idea of what can cause failure in these devices. Because HEMT transistors are so small (micro/nano-sized), obtaining experimental measurements of stresses and strains during the active operation of these devices is extremely challenging. Physical mechanisms that cause stress/strain in these structures include thermo-structural phenomena due to mismatch in both coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE) and mechanical stiffness between different materials, as well as stress/strain caused by "piezoelectric" effects (i.e. mechanical deformation caused by an electric field, and conversely voltage induced by mechanical stress) in the AlGaN and GaN device portions (both piezoelectric materials). This piezoelectric effect can be triggered by voltage applied to the device's gate contact and the existence of an HEMT-unique "two-dimensional electron gas" (2DEG) at the GaN-AlGaN interface.

COMSOL Multiphysics computer software has been utilized to create a finite element (i.e. piece-by-piece) simulation to visualize both temperature and stress/strain distributions that can occur in the device, by coupling together (i.e. solving simultaneously) the thermal, electrical, structural, and piezoelectric effects inherent in the device. The 2DEG has been modeled not with the typically-used self-consistent quantum physics analytical equations, rather as a combined localized heat source* (thermal) and surface charge density* (electrical) boundary condition. Critical values of stress/strain and their respective locations in the device have been identified. Failure locations have been estimated based on the critical values of stress and strain, and compared with reports in literature. The knowledge of the overall stress/strain distribution has assisted in determining the likely device failure mechanisms and possible mitigation approaches. The contribution and interaction of individual stress mechanisms including piezoelectric effects and thermal expansion caused by device self-heating (i.e. fast-moving electrons causing heat) have been quantified.

* Values taken from results of experimental studies in literature