Piezoresistive effect

Piezoresistive effect

The piezoresistive effect describes the changing electrical resistance of a material due to applied mechanical stress. The piezoresistive effect differs from the piezoelectric effect. In contrast to the piezoelectric effect, the piezoresistive effect only causes a change in resistance, it does not produce an electric potential.


The change of resistance of metal devices due to an applied mechanical load was first discovered in 1856 by Lord Kelvin. With single crystal silicon becoming the material of choice for the design of analog and digital circuits, the large piezoresistive effect in silicon and germanium was first discovered in 1954 (Smith 1954).


The sensitivity of piezoresistive devices is characterized by the gauge factor: : K = (dR/R)/epsilon _L

where dR is the change in resistance due to deformation, R is the undeformed resistance and epsilon _L is the strain.

Piezoresistive effect in metals

The piezoresistive effect of metal sensors is only due to the change of the sensor geometry resulting from applied mechanical stress. This geometrical piezoresistive effect results in gauge factors of (Window 1992):: K = 1 + 2 u where u denotes the material dependent Poisson’s ratio. Despite this rather small value compared to piezoresistive effect of other materials, metal piezoresistors, i.e. strain gages, are successfully used in a wide range of applications (Window 1992).

Piezoresistive effect in semiconductors

The piezoresistive effect of semiconductor materials can be several orders of magnitudes larger than the geometrical piezoresistive effect in metals and is present in materials like germanium, polycrystalline silicon, amorphous silicon, silicon carbide, and single crystal silicon.

Piezoresistive effect in Silicon

The resistance of silicon changes not only due to the stress dependent change of geometry, but also due to the stress dependent resistivity of the material. This results in gauge factors two orders of magnitudes larger than those observed in metals (Smith 1954). The resistance of n-conducting silicon mainly changes due to a shift of the three different conducting valley pairs. The shifting causes a redistribution of the carriers between valleys with different mobilities. This results in varying mobilities dependent on the direction of current flow. A minor effect is due to the effective mass change related to changing shapes of the valleys. In p-conducting silicon the phenomena are more complex and also result in mass changes and hole transfer.

Piezoresistive silicon devices

The piezoresistive effect of semiconductors has been used for sensor devices employing all kinds of semiconductor materials such as germanium, polycrystalline silicon, amorphous silicon, and single crystal silicon. Since silicon is today the material of choice for integrated digital and analog circuits the use of piezoresistive silicon devices has been of great interest. It enables the easy integration of stress sensors with Bipolar and CMOS circuits.

This has enabled a wide range of products using the piezoresisitve effect. Many commercial devices such as pressure sensors and acceleration sensors employ the piezoresistive effect in silicon. But due to its magnitude the piezoresistive effect in silicon has also attracted the attention of research and development for all other devices using single crystal silicon. Semiconductor Hall sensors, for example, were capable of achieving their current precision only after employing methods which eliminate signal contributions due the applied mechanical stress.


Piezoresistors are resistors made from a piezoresistive material and are usually used for measurement of mechanical
stress. They are the simplest form of piezoresistive devices.


Piezoresistors can be fabricated using wide variety of piezoresistive materials. The simplest form of piezoresistive silicon sensors are diffused resistors. Piezoresistors consist of a simple two contact diffused n- or p-wells within a p- or n-substrate. As the typical square resistances of these devices are in the range of several hundred ohms, additional p+ or n+ plus diffusions are necessary to facilitate ohmic contacts to the device.

"Schematic cross-section of the basic elements of a silicon n-well piezoresistor."

Physics of operation

For typical stress values in the MPa range the stress dependent voltage drop along the resistor Vr, can be considered to be linear. A piezoresistor aligned with the x-axis as shown in the figure may be described by

: V_r = R_0 I [1 + pi _L sigma _{xx} + pi _T (sigma _{yy} + sigma _{zz} )]

where R_0, "I", pi _T , pi _L , and sigma _{ij} denote the stress free resistance, the applied current, the transverse and longitudinal piezoresistive coefficients, and the three tensile stress components, respectively. The piezoresistive coefficients vary significantly with the sensor orientation with respect to the crystallographic axes and with the doping profile. Despite the fairly large stress sensitivity of simple resistors, they are preferably used in more complex configurations eliminating certain cross sensitivities and drawbacks. Piezoresistors have the disadvantage of being highly sensitive to temperature changes while featuring comparatively small relative stress dependent signal amplitude changes.

Advanced stress sensors derived from piezoresistors are Wheatstone bridges, x-ducers, and picture frame sensors.

Other piezoresistive devices

In silicon the piezoresistive effect is used in piezoresistors, Wheatstone bridges, so called X-Ducers, piezo-FETS, solid state accelerometers and bipolar transistors.


*Y. Kanda, "Piezoresistance Effect of Silicon," Sens. Actuators, vol. A28, no. 2, pp. 83-91, 1991.
*S. Middelhoek and S. A. Audet, Silicon Sensors, Delft, The Netherlands: Delft University Press, 1994.
*A. L. Window, Strain Gauge Technology, 2nd ed, London, England: Elsevier Applied Science, 1992.
*C. S. Smith, "Piezoresistance Effect in Germanium and Silicon," Phys. Rev., vol. 94, no. 1, pp. 42-49, 1954.
*S. M. Sze, Semiconductor Sensors, New York: Wiley, 1994.

See also

* Piezoelectricity

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