Concept for a MEMS-type vacuum sensor based on electrical conductivity measurements
The concept of the micro-structured vacuum sensor presented in this article is the measurement of the electrical conductivity of thinned gases in order to develop a small, economical and quite a simple type of vacuum sensor. There are already some approaches for small vacuum sensors. Most of them are based on conservative measurement principles similar to those used in macroscopic vacuum gauges. Ionization gauges use additional sources of energy, like hot cathodes, ultraviolet radiation or high voltage for example, for ionizing gas molecules and thereby increasing the number of charge carriers for measuring low pressures. In contrast, the concept discussed here cannot be found in macroscopic sensor systems because it depends on the microscopic dimension of a gas volume defined by two electrodes. Here we present the concept and the production of a micro-structured vacuum sensor chip, followed by the electrical characterization. Reference measurements with electrodes at a distance of about 1 mm showed currents in the size of picoampere and a conductivity depending on ambient pressure. In comparison with these preliminary measurements, fundamental differences regarding pressure dependence of the conductivity are monitored in the electrical characterization of the micro-structured sensor chip. Finally the future perspectives of this sensor concept are discussed.