Coefficient of Thermal Expansion, CTE Mismatch: Indium and Indium alloys


Materials to be used in packaging of high power semiconductor devices are often chosen by their coefficient of thermal expansion, or CTE. For instance, substrates such as AlSiC, Molybdenum, and Tungsten are chosen to mimic the coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE) values of the materials they will be attached to so as they expand and contract, the substrates do so in tandem, minimizing the mechanical stresses at the interfaces between these areas, or their CTE mismatch.

 

The coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE) of indium does not match many materials, yet it is chosen commonly as a solder thermal interface material between substrates with as dissimilar substrate properties as silicon and copper. 

 

How can indium bond together silicon with a CTE of 2.6PPM/ºC and copper with a CTE of approximately 17 PPM/ºC, then undergo years of thermal and power cycling, and not show degradation of thermal performance?

 

The answer is in the strength and malleability of indium. Indium is the softest metal which is stable in air. Although the CTE of indium is 29 PPM/ºC, the tensile strength of indium is 273PSI, which is very soft, and the shear strength of indium is 890PSI, which is significantly higher. In an application where indium is soldered to a back-side metallized die and a copper integrated heat spreader, there is significant CTE mismatch. 

 

However, assuming the interfaces of these solder joints is sound with minimal voids, the bulk indium will bend and stretch along with the contraction of substrates and will not crack.        

Indium Solder would be used as a thermal interface on top of a silicon chip to dissipate heat under significant CTE stresses.  Image courtesy of Tomshardware.com.