Micro- and Nano-electromechanical (MEM/NEM) relays can operate with zero-leakage at far higher temperatures and levels of radiation than transistors, but have poor reliability. This work demonstrates improvement in reliability of MEM
relays using nano-crystalline graphite (NCG)-coated contact surfaces. The high stability of NCG in ambient air, along with its low surface energy, appear to make it an ideal contact material. NCG-coated relays achieved over 2.8 million fast, hot-switching cycles with a drain current of at least 5 ➭A and on-resistance under 17 kΩ, in ambient air. The relays also were tested in slow, hot-switching cycles designed to increase the electrical stress on the contact, and consistently achieved on-currents up to 50 uA or the imposed current limit without failure. The eventual cause of failure appeared to be mechanical stress on the NCG layer over repeated cycling causing degradation. Increasing the layer thickness is expected to further improve the contact reliability. The relays are scalable and can be used as micro- or nano-scale switches in electronic components designed for very high temperatures and levels of radiation.
Invention protected with UK patent GB2548164.