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The measurement of the mechanical properties of materials with submicrometer dimensions is extremely challenging, from the preparation and manipulation of specimens to the application of small loads and extraction of accurate stresses and strains. A new on-chip nanomechanical testing concept has been developed in order to measure the mechanical properties of submicrometer freestanding thin films allowing various loading configurations and specimen geometries. The basic idea is to use internal stress present in one film to provide the actuation for deforming another film attached to the first film on one side and to the substrate on the other side. The measurement of the displacement resulting from the release of both films gives access to the stress and the strain applied to the test specimen provided the Young's modulus and mismatch strain of the actuator film are known. Classical microelectromechanical-systems-based microfabrication procedures are used to pattern the test structures and release the films from the substrate. The design procedures, data reduction scheme, and a generic fabrication strategy are described in details and implemented in order to build a suite of test structures with various combinations of dimensions. These structures allow the characterization of different materials and mechanical properties and enable high throughputs of data while avoiding any electrical signal or external actuation. Results obtained on ductile aluminum and brittle polysilicon films demonstrate the potential of the method to determine the Young's modulus, yield stress or fracture stress, fracture strain, and strain hardening in ductile materials.
Date of Publication: June 2009