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antennas and thick LCP can be used for antennas requiring higher bandwidth.

The Sierpinski antenna shown in Figure 3 was made on 100 m thick LCP.4 Micro-electro-mechanical (MEMS) switches were integrated to make the antenna frequency reconfigurable. Since the material is flexible, conformal antennas on LCP are possible. For example, a large antenna array could be laminated onto the side of an aircraft fuselage or the nose cone of a rocket. Since the material does not absorb moisture and can withstand chemical exposure, it is well-suited for outdoor deployment. Antennas are scalable by frequency and a material that operates across a wide frequency spectrum is usually desired. A unique antenna design could be scaled to work for L-band communications or W-band collision avoidance using the same material for both applications. This can provide considerable cost savings. The benefits for using LCP are not restricted to only multilayer and conformal systems. It can also be used as a low-loss substrate for rigid circuits. The cost of LCP is currently not low enough to make it competitive against FR4 for rigid circuits operating at less than 10 GHz. However, for X-band and higher, LCP would excel as a rigid substrate material. There are several fabrication companies that currently offer LCP as a circuit board material, including Modular Component National (www.modularcomp.com) and Dynaco Corp. (www.dynacocorp.com). LCP Limitations Even though LCP has many ideal properties, it does have some limitations. For example, it is an insulator so it cannot be used as the bulk material of a transistor (although it can be used as a carrier for bare die and packaged transistors). It is a polymer, so it cannot be used to make a hermetic package. Some of LCPs current limitations and misconceptions are listed below: Near-hermetic: Since LCP is a polymer, it cannot be truly hermetic. Although the extent of LCPs hermeticity is still under debate, the general consensus is that LCP performs well in gross-leak testing, but poorly in fine-leak testing. Micro-cracks in the LCP packages are effective at repelling liquid, but not moisture (such as vapor). The material itself absorbs very little moisture, as previously discussed. For this reason, LCP is commonly classified as near-hermetic.5 New material: LCP is often considered a new material and is therefore too experimental to be used in a developing system. Actually, LCP has been used in its current form for almost a decade with consistent performance. Strong bases: LCP is chemically resistant and has demonstrated no deterioration with prolonged exposures to strong acids. However, strong bases, especially when heated, will dissolve LCP over time. For example, photo resist remover with a pH of 12 will dissolve a piece of LCP in less than 24 hours if heated to 60C. This sensitivity to strong bases is true of all organic materials. Poor thermal conductor: Since LCP is a polymer, it does not conduct heat well. Any heat that is generated inside of an LCP package will not dissipate quickly. However, LCP does provide a thermal barrier to any heat sources outside of the LCP package. Depending on the application, poor thermal conductivity can be beneficial or problematic.6 Surface roughness: LCP has a natural surface roughness of a couple of microns. By comparison, a polished silicon wafer may have a surface roughness of a couple of nanometers. For applications that require a polished surface, the LCP must be mechanically polished before using. This is not a difficult process and can be performed at production scale.7 Current LCP Innovations LCP certainly has the potential to provide never before seen consumer and military innovations. Conformal electronics are rarely heard of because flexible materials are not readily available. A few decades ago, a low-cost, flexible, low-loss material that could operate to 110 GHz was unheard of and inconceivable. Today, LCP can do all of these things and more. Microwave engineers have been using LCP for nearly a decade and several exciting new technologies have emerged from this effort. The Georgia Electronic Design Center (GEDC) at Georgia Tech is one of the key research facilities for LCP technologies. Since LCP is very advantageous for antenna systems, most of the research that has been performed to date is focused on novel antenna designs and systems. Several examples of recent LCP innovations are

performed to date is focused on novel antenna designs and systems. Several examples of recent LCP innovations are presented below. RFID A radio frequency identification (RFID) tag or transponder is a device capable of storing and wirelessly transmitting a packet of information. These devices can be integrated into products, animals and even people for providing fast and secure identification. Many department stores are currently using RFIDs to monitor their products. A toll pass transponder that commuters can use to pay their fee without stopping is another example of an RFID. LCP is particularly attractive for RFID antennas because it lends itself well to conductive printing techniques. In this process, LCP can be fed into an inkjet printer similarly to a piece of paper and the antenna pattern can be printed on using a conductive ink. This fabrication method has the potential of being fast and super low-cost, which are key elements to a successful RFID. The ultimate goal is to place an RFID tag on every consumer product for easy tracking. The Printed Electronics Laboratory at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology is one of the leading research facilities for conductive printing on LCP. The ultra-wideband (UWB) antenna shown in Figure 4 was designed by Dimitris Anagnostou and fabricated by Ahmad A. Gheethan using an M3D (Maskless Mesoscale Materials Deposition) machine.8 On a piece of unpolished LCP, a printing accuracy of 20 m is possible with this technique. Inflatable Arrays Organizations like NASA have been interested in using LCP as a satellite antenna material since it was first introduced. Deploying a large satellite in space is challenging because it must be able to fit inside a rocket or Shuttle payload. Ideally, a large antenna array could be rolled up like a round bale of hay, loaded into a rocket, blasted into space, deployed into orbit, and unrolled, as demonstrated in Figure 5.7 This method minimizes the size of the rocket needed to launch the payload, which drastically reduces the cost of satellite deployment. The military has also been interested in inflatable arrays for some time. A large array can be packed tightly for easy mobility and quickly deployed on the battlefield as needed. When not in use, the inflated array can be deflated and packed away. Both of these processes are much more covert, because they allow for easy mobility and a negligible radar cross section when not in use. MEMS Switch Substrate and Packaging The ability to make MEMS switches directly onto a polymer material offers an opportunity to greatly decrease the cost of a MEMS device. The high cost of MEMS is due partly to the expensive metal and ceramic packaging. MEMS are incredibly sensitive to heat and moisture, so careful packaging is essential. Aside from cost issues, ceramic packaging can be lossy and bulky as well. MEMS can be fabricated on LCP after polishing the surface to a mirror finish. At that point, the surface roughness is no longer an issue for reliable operation. MEMS switches on LCP have demonstrated hundreds of millions of cycles and testing is still in progress.7 MEMS can be packaged in LCP, but unfortunately most MEMS devices cannot survive the 290C bonding temperature. Therefore, other bonding methods have been explored. Some examples of localized bonding techniques that have been investigated include metal rings,6 infrared lasers and ultrasound. The four-bit switched-line phase shifter shown in Figure 6 was packaged in LCP using epoxy. A cavity was formed in the bondply to protect the MEMS treejunctions.7 This MEMS phase shifter is one of the passive devices packaged in the flexible circuit shown previously. Communication Module For a long time, the Holy Grail of 3D integration was to combine active, passive and electromechanical devices onto one multilayer package. Such a technology would demonstrate that system-on-package (SOP) design strategies were

possible. In the spring of 2007, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology created a fully functional, multilayer receiver module on LCP. A 2 x 2 patch antenna array was integrated with MEMS reconfigurable phase shifters to create a beam steering array. A low-noise amplifier (LNA) was used to amplify the received signal. The LNA could have been replaced with a power amplifier to create a transmit module as well. The operating frequency of the device was 14 GHz for satellite communication applications.9 The researchers implemented the module using a single layer and a multilayer approach. By moving the LNA to a different vertical layer, they were able to reduce the size of the module by 25 percent. The single layer implementation is shown in Figure 7 and the flexibility is demonstrated.7 Conclusion LCP was introduced to the microwave industry almost a decade ago and since then many companies, universities and national laboratories have used the material in their designs. For applications requiring flexible or conformal electronics, LCP is the forerunner in microwave materials. Even as a rigid board material, LCP offers low-loss performance through W-band, dielectric stability and low cost. LCP is also an excellent packaging material. With a low melting temperature bondply available, making a multilayer device is a straight-forward process. Since the permittivity is low, very few design considerations need to be given to the packaging effects. To date, most of the innovations being developed with LCP are antennas. LCP is well suited for antenna applications due to its dielectric stability, wide frequency range, low permittivity and resilience to harsh environments. Researchers are already planning future microwave systems that are more compact, lighter-weight and better performing. To do this, versatile materials are desired that can satisfy a variety of electrical and mechanical needs. LCP is ready to fulfill the requirements of current and next generation systems. Acknowledgments The author would like to thank John Papapolymerou and Manos Tentzeris at Georgia Tech for their research efforts that have inspired this article. He would also like to thank George Ponchak at NASA Glenn for supporting the LCP antenna deployment and communication module programs. Lastly, the Rogers Corp. is thanked for providing the LCP material and supporting much of this research. References 1. D. Thompson, O. Tantot, H. Jallageas, G. Ponchak, M. Tentzeris and J. Papapolymerou, Characterization of Liquid Crystal Polymer (LCP) Material and Transmission Lines on LCP Substrates from 30 to 110 GHz, IEEE Transactions on Microwave Theory and Techniques, Vol. 52, No. 4, April 2004, pp. 13431352. 2. D. Thompson, N. Kingsley, G. Wang, J. Papapolymerou and M. Tentzeris, RF Characteristics of Thin-film Liquid Crystal Polymer (LCP) Packages for RF MEMS and MMIC Integration, 2005 IEEE MTT-S International Microwave Symposium Digest. 3. Rogers Corp., RO3000 Series High Frequency Circuit Materials, http://www.rogerscorporation.com/mwu/pdf/3000data.pdf, May 2005. 4. N. Kingsley, D.E. Anagnostou and J. Papapolymerou, RF MEMS Sequentially-reconfigurable Sierpinski Antenna on a Flexible Organic Substrate with Novel DC-biasing Technique, IEEE Journal of Microelectromechanical Systems, Vol. 16, No. 5, October 2007, pp. 11851192.

5. N. Kingsley, S. Bhattacharya and J. Papapolymerou, Moisture Lifetime Testing of RF MEMS Switches Packaged in Liquid Crystal Polymer, IEEE Transactions on Components and Packaging Technologies, to be published in April/May 2008. 6. M.A. Morton, N. Kingsley and J. Papapolymerou, Low Cost Method for Localized Packaging of Temperature Sensitive Capacitive RF MEMS Switches in Liquid Crystal Polymer, 2007 IEEE MTT-S International Microwave Symposium Digest . 7. N. Kingsley, Development of Miniature, Multilayer, Integrated, Reconfigurable RF MEMS Communication Module on Liquid Crystal Polymer (LCP) Substrate, PhD Dissertation, Georgia Institute of Technology, May 2007. 8. Image used with permission by Dimitris Anagnostou, Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, South Dakota School of Mines & Technology. 9. N. Kingsley, G. Ponchak and J. Papapolymerou, Reconfigurable RF MEMS Phased Array Antenna Integrated Within a Liquid Crystal Polymer (LCP) System-on-Package, IEEE Transactions on Antennas and Propagation, Vol. 56, No. 1, January 2008, pp. 108118. Nickolas Kingsley received his PhD degree from the Georgia Institute of Technology in May 2007. During his PhD program, he focused on novel technologies using liquid crystal polymer (LCP) substrate. He joined Auriga Measurement Systems in June 2007 as a principal engineer in the measurement, modeling and design group. His research interests include the design, miniaturization, fabrication, packaging and testing of RF MEMS multilayer front ends.

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