Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Electrical Engineering

Major Professor

Jing Wang, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Rasim Guldiken, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Shengqian Ma, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Arash Takshi, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Sylvia Thomas, Ph.D.


Microelectromechanical Systems, Damping, Capacitive, Simulation, Modeling, Microfabrication


The purpose of this research is to develop MEMS based acoustic emission sensors for structural health monitoring. Acoustic emission (AE) is a well-established nondestructive testing technique that is typically used to monitor for fatigue cracks in structures, leaks in pressurized systems, damages in composite materials or impacts. This technology can offer a precise evaluation of structural conditions and allow identification of imminent failures or minor failures that can be addressed by planned maintenances routines. AE causes a burst of ultrasonic energy that is measured as high frequency surface vibrations (30 kHz to 1 MHz) generated by transient elastic waves that are typically emitted from growing cracks at the interior of the structure.

The AE sensor marketplace is currently dominated by bulky and expensive piezoelectric transducers that are wired to massive multichannel data acquisition systems. These systems are complex to operate with the need of signal conditioning units and near proximity pre-amplifiers for each sensor that demands a fairly complicated wiring requirements. Furthermore, due to the high prices of conventional AE sensors and associated instrumentation, and the current requirements in sensor volumes for smart transportation infrastructure, it is undeniable that new AE technology is required for affordable structural health monitoring. The new AE technology must deliver comparable performance at one or two orders of magnitude lower cost, size and weight. MEMS acoustic emission (AE) sensors technology has the potential to resolve several of these traditional sensor’s shortcomings with the advantage of possible integration of on-chip preamplifier while allowing substantially cost reduction due to the batch processing nature of MEMS technology.

This study will focus on filling some of the major existing gaps between current developments in MEMS acoustic emission sensors and commercial piezoelectric sensors, such as sensor size, signal-to-noise ratio (SNR), cost and the possibility to conform to sharply curved surfaces. Basically, it is proposed to develop a new class of micro-machined AE sensors or sensor arrays through strategic design of capacitive and piezoelectric MEMS sensors, which will focus on optimizing the following performance aspects:

  • Creating geometric designs to manipulate the sensor resonant frequency and to optimize Q factor under atmospheric pressure and ambient environment.
  • Developing a strategic selection of materials according to its acoustic impedance as insulator, structure and backing material.
  • Developing strategies to improve the signal to noise ratio SNR with and without integrated amplification/signal processing.
  • Performing a comparison between MEMS and commercial piezoelectric sensors.