IEEE ELECTRON DEVICE LETTERS, VOL. 26, NO. 7, JULY 2005451
Microwave Characteristics of Liquid-Crystal
J. Andrew Yeh, Member, IEEE, C. Alex Chang, Chih-Cheng Cheng, Jing-Yi Huang, and
Shawn S. H. Hsu, Member, IEEE
Abstract—This letter investigates the microwave characteristics
of the liquid crystal tunable capacitors for the first time. With
the dielectric anisotropy properties, the liquid crystal capacitors
present very different characteristics compared to the semicon-
ductor or MEMS tunable capacitors. A quality factor of 310 with
a control voltage of 5 V was achieved at 4 GHz. A tuning range
of 25.3% for the control voltages from 0 to 5 V was obtained at 5
GHz. The results demonstrate the potential applications of liquid
crystals as dielectric materials for capacitors with high quality
factors and wide tuning ranges at high frequencies, particularly
suitable for the future flexible electronics with transparent sub-
Index Terms—Liquid crystal, microwave, tunable capacitors.
ture. Liquid crystals have been employed for flexible display
for decades because of their transparency, flexibility, birefrin-
gence, and dependence of refractive index on voltage. Given
the above properties, the liquid crystals have tremendous poten-
tial for tunable devices used in the microwave frequency range.
Recently, the liquid crystals were demonstrated in the applica-
tions of microwave phase shifters, microwave delay lines and
microwave wavelength selectors –. However, utilizing the
special property of the dielectric anisotropy
crowave tunable capacitive devices has not been explored in the
above studies. Since dielectric constants of liquid crystals are
voltage-dependent, the liquid crystal based capacitors could be
ideal for varactor-type devices. Hence, such intrinsic properties
make liquid crystals excellent candidates for the emerging flex-
ible electronics technology, in particular for transparent appli-
In this paper, liquid crystal tunable capacitors for microwave
applications were designed and characterized for the first time.
ductive structures made of gold. The devices exhibit bias-de-
– characteristics in a wide frequency range. The
LEXIBLE display and electronics are emerging to play a
great impetus on daily life of human beings in the near fu-
by Editor K. De Meyer.
J. A. Yeh is with the Institute of Electronic Engineering and the Institute
of MicroElectroMechanical Systems, National Tsing-Hua University, Hsinchu
300, Taiwan, R.O.C.
C.A. ChangandS. S.H. Hsuare withthe InstituteofElectronicEngineering,
National Tsing-Hua University, Hsinchu 300, Taiwan, R.O.C.
C.-C. Cheng and J.-Y. Huang are with the Institute of MicroElectroMechan-
ical Systems, National Tsing-Hua University, Hsinchu 300, Taiwan, R.O.C.
Digital Object Identifier 10.1109/LED.2005.851118
(b) Operation principle of liquid crystal molecule with applied electric field.
(a) Schematic of fractal-type liquid crystal tunable capacitor,
quency; this characteristic is very different from semiconductor
or MEMS varactors. This paper is comprised of the device de-
sign, characterization, extraction of quality factor, and finally,
analysis and discussion of experimental results.
strongly depends on control voltage and on fre-
II. DEVICE DESIGN
Fig. 1(a) reveals the schematic of tunable capacitors in this
letter. The liquid crystal E7 is injected into the gaps between
fractal structure fingers. The operation principle of the liquid
crystal tunable capacitors is illustrated in Fig. 1(b). Control
voltage signals are embedded in RF signals to adjust capac-
itances. As the control voltages (i.e., electric field intensity)
increase, liquid crystal molecules are forced to align more
parallel to electric field lines by electrostatic dipole moments
applied. Hence, the dielectric constants of the liquid crystal
change continuously from perpendicular dielectric constant
toward parallel dielectric constant
intrinsically results in the upper bound of tuning range of
. The difference ofto
0741-3106/$20.00 © 2005 IEEE
452 IEEE ELECTRON DEVICE LETTERS, VOL. 26, NO. 7, JULY 2005
Measured capacitances versus control voltage for 2, 3, 4, and 5 GHz
denotes threshold voltage).
The liquid crystal tunable capacitors were fabricated on the
glass substrates with gold metal lines on top. The fingers of the
tunable capacitors under test are 5 and 4
thickness, respectively. The gap spacing between two adjacent
fingers is 5
m. The devices are 500 by 500
m in width and in
m from the top
III. DEVICE CHARACTERIZATION AND DISCUSSION
On-wafer measurement of the tunable capacitors was con-
ducted using a performance network analyzer Agilent E8364B
with coplanar ground-signal-ground (GSG) probes. The para-
sitic effect of probing pads was de-embedded to extract capaci-
tances using the lumped-element single- model .
where Im and
operation frequency, respectively. The experimental results of
capacitances as a function of voltages at different frequencies
were plotted in Fig. 2. The devices without liquid crystal, for
reference check, were measured to have a constant capacitance
value of 0.52 pF at voltages of 0–5 V at 5 GHz. A threshold
was estimated to be about 0.75 V in the devices
with liquid crystal injected. Beyond the threshold voltage, ca-
pacitances were found to vary with voltages
quencies tested. For instance, the change of capacitance per volt
at 5 GHz is 64 fF/V and the tuning range is
25.3% from 0 to 5 V.
The threshold voltage can be interpreted using elastic con-
tinuum theory of liquid crystals . The net free energy
is the sum of contributions from deformation of liquid crystal
molecules and external control voltages (i.e., electric fields).
The liquid crystal director distribution tends to orientate with
respect to the electric fields to minimize the net free energy.
Therefore, the threshold voltage can be calculated using (2).
denote the imaginary part of-parameter and
at all fre-
Measured quality factor (?) versus control voltage for 2, 3, 4, and 5
liquid crystal. Given
for E7, the threshold voltage is estimated to be 1 V, which is
slightly larger than the experimental results. This difference
results from the semi-hard boundary condition of the liquid
crystal in the devices tested. The hard boundary requires the tilt
angle of liquid crystal directors at the boundaries independent
of electric fields applied. Equation (2) is derived based on hard
boundary condition while the devices tested have one surface
exposed to air (i.e., not fully confined.) Hence, the measured
threshold voltage was lower than prediction. Also, note that the
tuning range at 5 GHz is larger than those at 2, 3, and 4 GHz.
This couldbe causedby dependence of thedielectric anisotropy
on operation frequencies. This issue is currently under
values (i.e., energy stored divided by energy
loss) versus control voltages for different operation frequencies
were illustrated in Fig. 3. At 2, 3, and 4 GHz, the
increase as the control voltages turn up. Enhancement of the
values due to increment of the control voltage results from
the dielectric anisotropy of liquid crystal, including the compo-
nent of the loss tangent perpendicular to the electric field ap-
and the parallel component
is larger than that of
values enhance when liquid crystal molecules
under increasing control voltages. Further, the
invariant at 5 GHz despite change in control voltage. The cause
of such behavior is unclear; it could be the frequency depen-
dence of dielectric constants.
imum at a frequency between 4 and 5 GHz. In the gigahertz
range, dielectric losses (
eration frequencies beyond the resonant frequencies of
and, leading to higher
cies. When the operation frequencies reach 5 GHz, the
become smaller because of ohmic loss in metal lines and dielec-
tric loss in liquid crystal. At 5 GHz, the skin depth of gold is
calculated to be 1.2
m, limiting the effective conductive area
of the metal lines with the cross section of 4 by 5
dition, the frequency dependence of the dielectric constants at
microwave range is still under investigation.
is the permittivity in free space,is the dielectric
and is the elastic constant of
in the GHz range ;
and) decrease at the op-
values for higher frequen-
m. In ad-
CHANG et al.: MICROWAVE CHARACTERISTICS OF LIQUID-CRYSTAL TUNABLE CAPACITORS 453
In this letter, a new type of tunable capacitors using liquid
crystal as tuning media were proposed and characterized for the
first time. The tuning mechanism of the capacitors is achieved
based on dielectric anisotropy of liquid crystals. The devices
frequency range. The
values are influenced by ohmic loss of
metal line and by dielectric loss in liquid crystal. The frequency
dependence of the dielectric constants in liquid crystal is cur-
rently under investigation.
– characteristics in a wide
The authors are grateful to Dr. Chiou, Department of
Electrical Engineering, National Central University, Jhongli,
Taiwan, for his measurement assistance.
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