Reliability of ultra-thin insulation coatings for long-term electrophysiological recordings
Stephanie A. Hooker
Improved measurement of neural signals is needed for research into Alzheimer¿s, Parkinson¿s, epilepsy, strokes, and spinal cord injuries. At the heart of such instruments are microelectrodes that measure electrical signals in the body. Such electrodes must be small, stable, biocompatible, and robust. However, it is also important that they be easily implanted without causing substantial damage to surrounding tissue. Tissue damage can lead to the generation of immune responses that can interfere with the electrical measurement, preventing long-term recording. Recent advances in microfabrication and nanotechnology afford the opportunity to dramatically reduce the physical dimensions of recording electrodes, thereby minimizing insertion damage. However, one potential cause for concern is the reliability of the insulating coatings, applied to these ultra-fine-diameter wires to precisely control impedance. Such coatings are often polymeric and are applied everywhere but the sharpened tips of the wires, resulting in nominal impedances between 0.5 MOhms and 2.0 MOhms. However, during operation, the polymer degrades, changing the exposed area and the impedance. In this work, ultra-thin ceramic coatings were deposited as an alternative to polymer coatings. Processing conditions were varied to determine the effect of microstructure on measurement stability during two-electrode measurements in a standard buffer solution. Coatings were applied to seven different metals to determine any differences in performance due to the surface characteristics of the underlying wire. Sintering temperature and wire type had significant effects on coating degradation. Dielectric breakdown was also observed at relatively low voltages, indicating that test conditions must be carefully controlled to maximize reliability.