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Burst Noise in Semiconductor Devices

W. HOWARD CARD AND ANTON MAVRETIC

Syracuse University Syracuse, New York


I. INTRODUCTION

W have been searching for relationships between deterioration and lowE frequency excess noise (current noise) in semiconductor devices. In particular we have been seeking some measurable characteristic of the excess noise which might allow a prediction of device failure. While our results are not complete we find that the low-frequency excess noise often comprises two components; one component, called burst noise seems to result from a nonstationary random process, is often associated with electrochemical activity, and is sometimes associated with parameter drift. For example, unencapsulated transistors often produce burst noise, and the reverse junction current in these devices usually increases to excessively large values. This paper reports preliminary results from this study of excess noise and deterioration. Section 2 shows the principal noise-measuring systems we use; of these, the system for measuring broad-band noise turns out to be the most useful. In Section 3 a definition for burst noise is given and results presented to show how burst noise differs from regular or clean noise. Section 4 shows time waveforms of burst noise and clean noise which illustrate the characteristic spikes and steps in burst noise. The spectrum of current noise is often measured, but results reported in Section 5 indicate that spectrum measurements do not provide a sensitive test for distinguishing burst noise from clean noise. Measurements of amplitude-distribution function, presented in Section 6, also do not provide a sensitive means for distinguishing burst noise. In Section 7 preliminary attempts are made to relate noise measurements with device parameter drift; these results show the need for measurements of noise, especially measurements of burst noise, that are more sophisticated than those reported here. In Section 8 the results are summarized, and postulates made about the nature of burst noise; in particular, burst noise apparently results from statistically nonstationary

268

processes, and appears to arise from irreversible breakdowns and chemical processes.
II. SYSTEMS FOR MEASURING LOW-FREQUENCY EXCESS NOISE If a noise voltage is a gaussian random process' then a spectrum analysis provides sufficient information to complete the statistical description of the noise. Low-frequency excess noise, however, apparently does not meet the requirements for being a gaussian random process so that measurements in addition to spectrum analyses would be required to describe the random process completely. In order to get as much information as we conveniently can about the noise we attempt to measure rectified-average voltage, spectral densities, autocorrelation functions, and amplitude distribution functions. Figure 1 shows the block diagram for our broad-band noise measuring system, and Figure 2 shows typical components that we use. We have, in effect, a recording a-c voltmeter.
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The strip-chart recorder at th}e output has several advantages over an indicator such as a d-c voltmeter. First, there is no need to average by eye the reading of a fluctuating indicator. Second, the average can be made as accurate as necessary by averaging on the strip chart. Third, as discussed in Section 3, the stripchart records differ for burst noise and clean noise, thus can be used to distinguish between them. Figure 3 shows the system used for spectral analysis. This system is perhaps novel in two respects: (1) the noise is recorded on magnetic tape, and (2) a voltage-to-frequency converter and electronic counter are employed to average the output indication. The noise recording system is necessary to provide useful measurements for nonstationary processes. By rewinding the tape before making a measurement, each ixeasured point of the spectrum comes from exactly the same sample of noise. Ideally, results are equivalent to results obtainable from a comb filter. The averaging- system using the electronic counter makes every measurement nonsubjective and permits long averaging times. The averaging time required to achieve a specified accuracy varies inversely with the filter bandwidth.2 Thus, for example, for a flat-spectrum gaussian input and a wave analyzer, with a 7 cps bandwidth, an averaging time of 4 minutes is required to be 95 per cent certain that the error is less than 5 per cent. Mentally averaging the fluctuating indication of a wave analyzer for such a long period would be difficult. Typically we use samples of three to eight minutes. Information about a stationary random process similar to that provided by spectral analysis comes from the autocorrelation function, since the spectral density function and -the autocorrelation function comprise a Fourier transform pair.3 In order to find out if measured autocorrelation functions might provide useful information about noise that was nonstationary we developed a specialpurpose sampling autocorrelation-function computer.4 Our computer had limited accuracy and the results showed otly very small differences between burst noise and clean noise.5 No experimental results are reported here.

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Recorde FIG. 4. System for measuring amplitude distribution function using a Quan-Tech M317 analyzer

Measurements of amplitude distribution function were made using the system of Figure 4. Once again the tape recorder ensures that all measured points come from the same sample of noise, and the electronic counter provides accurate averaging over the whole sample period.
III. BROAD-BAND MEASUREMENTS OF CLEAN NOISE AND BURST NOISE As mentioned in Section I there appear to be two types (at least) of lowfrequency excess noise generated in nonmetallic resistors and semiconductor devices. One type appears to be statistically regular, i.e., to come from a stationary random process.6 We call this clean noise. Any noise which is not regular we call burst noise. While burst noise has been observed in resistors before7 we find that it appears in transistors as well, and has characteristics similar to electrical noise from electrochemical processes. In this section we report broad-band measurements of clean noise and burst noise. Figure 5 shows strip-chart records made with the system of Figure 2 on two similar resistors. These records differ principally in that (b) is more erratic than (a). Our interpretation is that erratic strip charts result from burst noise. Other investigators have reported some of the characteristics of burst noise without attempting to relate them together. In 1949 Campbell and Chipman8 showed strip charts of noise from carbon composition resistors with large anomalies. More recently, Conrad and Newmane in a report on the accuracy limitations of a noise index measuring instrumente showed that some resistors give more erratic indications than others. They group the erratic indication with other errors in the determination of noise index. It is useful to attempt to determine the statistical significance of the erratic strip-chart records. In principle, if the noise is a gaussian random process, with known spectral density, then the ratio of the standard deviation of the deflection to the average deflection, i.e., V5-/Vd, can be calculated. If this ratio is found then, for example, the 2-sigma limits shoula contain about 95 per cent of the record. That is, tolerance lines drawn at Vd4, 2V4-e should contain about 95

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nearly as 1/fa with a greater than but close to unity. The results also suggest one interpretation for burst noise, i.e., it consists of a nonstationary fluctuation in the level of the otherwise clean noise. Similar measurements were made on other samples of both clean and burst noise. Noise from germanium whiskers, transistor junctions, diodes and carboh film resistors showed nearly 1/f noise in most cases. Noise from electrochemical processes and dry-cell batteries gave spectra between 1/f and I/f2. Clipped 1/f noise resulting when amplifiers are overdriven also approaches a 1/f2 spectrum. In almost every case our results indicated a smooth spectrum. Our results suggest that burst noise may cause the spectrum to be shifted toward 1/f2, although the shift was small in typical transistors. We notice that scattered experimental results can result when successive spectrum points are

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obtained from successive noise samples, e.g., when feeding noise directly into a wave analyzer without using a recorder. A shift toward a I/f2 spectrum for burst noise suggests a second mechanism for burst noise, i.e., that it comprises voltage steps. Consider a wave analyzer that consists of a set of parallel-GLC circuits each tuned to a separate frequency. Each circuit has its own indicator that integrates the squared voltage across the tuned circuit. The signal to be analyzed is a current source used to drive all the tuned circuits connected in series, so that there is, of course, no interaction between the circuits. It can be shown that the output indications of this wave analyzer for a unit step input (and hence for many uncorrelated voltage steps), implies a 1/f2 spectrum at the input. Thus if burst noise consists of uncorrelated voltage steps a measured 1/f2 spectrum would be expected. Such a process need not be stationary. VI. MEASURED AMPLITUDE DISTRIBUTION FUNCTIONS Measurements made with the system of Figure 3 indicate that clean current noise has a gaussian amplitude distribution function, but that burst noise may have a distorted distribution. Figure 12 shows typical experimental results plotted on probability coordinates. These coordinates give straight lines for gaussian amplitude distributions. Curvature at the extremes may have resulted from amplifier distortion. There is little to distinguish between the two curves for transistors although one had more burst noise than the other. The (burst) noise from the battery, however, clearly is not gaussian. We conclude that measurements of amplitude distribution function made this way do not provide a sensitive distinction for burst noise, if the burst component is small. VII. EXCESS NOISE AND PARAMETER DRIFT Preliminary attempts were made to determine whether changes in hFE, are correlated with average noise voltage magnitude, or with some measure of burst noise. For this purpose 30 type 2N251 germanium pnp power transistors were biased for 800 hours with VCE = 15 volts and I, = 40 ma. About once every 100 hours, hFE and broad-band noise were measured. It was observed that every device showed a change in h of at least 40 per cent, every device showed a change in noise magnitude, and every device had burst noise. Figures 13 and 14 show attempts to find relationships between noise and changes in hFE. Each point represents ohe device. Changes in hFE (without regard to sign) during the 800-hour test, divided by hFE at 100 hours, are used for the abscissae. All devices exCept one showed a net increase in hFE. In Figure 13 the ordinates are the average noise voltage magnitudes over the test measured in microvolts with approximately a IOcps to lOkc pass band. These results show no apparent correlation between average noise magnitude and drift in hFE

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Figure 14 shows a preliminary search for correlations between drift in hFu and burst noise. The measure of burst noise employed was the relative noise spread: this consists of the peak-to-peak variation in a 10-minute sample of strip-chart record, divided by the average indication. We ignored isolated spikes in a sample. Typical samples of strip-chart record, shown in Figure 15, illustrate how relative noise spread was estimated. The results, plotted in Figure 14, show little correlation between changes in hFE and relative noise spread. Other attempts were made to find correlations between drift in device parameters, e.g., drift in Ico, and burst noise. A major difficulty always arises for want of a numerical measure of burst noise, For example, two devices may have nearly the same average noise magnitude and relative noise spread but show very different strip-chart records. Moreover, the burst noise changes from hour

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versible chemical processes and breakdowns. This paper has reported several systems for measuring low-frequency noise. Important features of these ineasuring systems are the following: ( ) A stripchart recorder is used with a broad-band amplifier and detector in order to distinguish cleani inoise from burst noise. (2) A magnetic-tape recorder used
289

VIII. SUNMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS Low-frequency excess noise comprises two components which we call clean noise and burst noise. Because burst noise is closely associated with chemical processes and occurs in transistors which have parameter drift, we suspect a correlation between burst noise and drift. The observation that burst noise is a statistically nonstationary random process suggests a correlation with irre-

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with a spectrum analyzer and an amplitude-distribution-function analyzer permit useful measurements of nonstationary processes. (3) An electronic counter permits accurate nonsubjective long-term averages of the spectrum analyzer indication. We have postulated two interpretations for burst noise:, (1) It is a nonstationary fluctuation in the level of clean noise. (2) It is the superposition of clean noise and uncorrelated voltage steps from a nonstationary process. For example, drift in a resistance value may result from a preponderance of voltage steps (hence resistance changes) in one direction. These postulates require further investigation. Preliminary attempts at finding correlations between parameter drift and burst noise were hindered by the absence of quantitative measures of burst noise.

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FIG. 15. Typical samples of broad-band noise from 2N251 transistors. The horizontal lines show the peak-to-peak values used for estimating relative noise spread.

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REFERENCES
1. DAVENIIORT, W. B., and

Root, W. L., Random Signals and Noise, McGraw-Hill Book CoInpany, Incorpor-ted, New York, N.Y., (1958), p. 154.

2. B3ENNErr, R. R., and FUI,TON, A. S., "'The Generation and Measurement of Low FrequL1ency Random Noise," Journal of Applied Physics, Vol. 22 (1951), pp. 1187-1191. 3. RICE, S. O., "Mathematical Analysis of Random Noise," Selected Papers on Noise and Stochastic Processes edited by Nelson WVax, l)over Publications, Inc. New York, N.Y., (1954), pp. 161-183.

4. CARD, W. HOWARD, et al, Theoretical and Experimental Studies Relating to Mechanisms of Failur e of Semiconcluctor I)evices, Final Report RAI)C-TDR-271, Contract No. AF30(602)-2177, Syracuse University Research Institute Report No. EE 751625TN-3, 21 May 1962, pp. 3-1 to 3-17. 5. GLASFORD, G. M., et al, Mechanisms of Failure in Semiconductor Devices, RADCTDR-63-338, Contract No. AF30(602)-2778, (1963), pp. 43-51.
6. DAVENPORT, W. B., and ROoT, W. L., ibid, pp. 38-42. 7. BELL, D. A., Electrical Noise, D. Van Nostrand Company, New York, N.Y., (1960), pp. 258-261. 8. CAMPBELL, R. H., and CHIPMAN, R. A., "Noise from Current-Carrying Resistors," 20 to 500 KC, Proc. of IRE, Vol. 37, (1949), pp. 938-942.

9. NEWMAN, N., and CONRAD, GIF., "Discussion of Errors of a Recommended Standard Resistor-Noise Test System," IRE Transactions on Component Parts, Vol. CP-9, (1962), pp. IS0-192. 10. CONRAD, G. T., NEWMAN, N., and STANSBURY, A. P., "A Recommended Standard Resistor-Noise Test System," IRE Transactions on Component Parts, Vol. CP-7, (1960), pp. 71-88.
11. GLASFORD, G. M., et a], ibid, pp. 27-36.

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