By combining substrate-free structures with anodic bonding technology, we present a simple and efficient micro-electro-mechanical system (MEMS) thermal shear stress sensor. Significantly, the resulting depth of the vacuum cavity of the sensor is determined by the thickness of the silicon substrate at which Si is removed by the anisotropic wet etching process. Compared with the sensor based on a sacrificial layer technique, the proposed MEMS thermal shear-stress sensor exhibits dramatically improved sensitivity due to the much larger vacuum cavity depth. The fabricated MEMS thermal shear-stress sensor with a vacuum cavity depth as large as 525 μm and a vacuum of 5 × 10−2 Pa exhibits a sensitivity of 184.5 mV/Pa and a response time of 180 μs. We also experimentally demonstrate that the sensor power is indeed proportional to the 1/3-power of the applied shear stress. The substrate-free structures offer the ability to precisely measure the shear stress fluctuations in low speed turbulent boundary layer wind tunnels.

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