Thermal degradation of electroplated nickel thermal microactuators

J. K. Luo, Y. Q. Fu, J. A. Williams, W. I. Milne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


In this paper, the thermal degradation of laterally operating thermal actuators made from electroplated nickel has been studied. The actuators investigated delivered a maximum displacement of ca. 20 µm at an average temperature of ~450 °C, which is much lower than that of typical silicon-based microactuators. However, the magnitude of the displacement strongly depended on the frequency and voltage amplitude of the pulse signal applied. Back bending was observed at maximum temperatures as low as 240 °C. Both forward and backward displacements increase as the applied power was increased up to a value of 60 mW; further increases led to reductions in the magnitudes of both displacements. Scanning electron microscopy clearly showed that the nickel beams began to deform and change their shape at this critical power level. Compressive stress is responsible for nickel pileup, while tensile stresses, generated upon removing the current, are responsible for necking at the hottest section of the hot arm of the device. Energy dispersive X-ray diffraction analysis also revealed the severe oxidation of Ni structure induced by Joule heating. The combination of plastic deformation and oxidation was responsible for the observed thermal degradation. Results indicate that nickel thermal microactuators should be operated below 200 °C to avoid thermal degradation. © 2006 IEEE.

Original languageEnglish
Article number5337899
Pages (from-to)1279-1287
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Microelectromechanical Systems
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2009


  • Back bending
  • Electroplating
  • Oxidation
  • Plastic deformation
  • Thermal actuator
  • Thermal degradation


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