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Measuring the elastic modulus and residual stress of freestanding thin films using nanoindentation techniques

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  31 January 2011

Erik G. Herbert*
University of Tennessee, College of Engineering, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Knoxville, Tennessee 37996-2200
Warren C. Oliver
Agilent Technologies, Nanotechnology Measurements Division, Research and Development, Oak Ridge, Tennessee 37830
Maarten P. de Boer
MEMS Technology Department, Sandia National Labs, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87185-1084
George M. Pharr
University of Tennessee, College of Engineering, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Knoxville, Tennessee 37996-2200; and Materials Science and Technology Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tennessee 37831-6132
a) Address all correspondence to this author. e-mail: or
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A new method is proposed to determine the elastic modulus and residual stress of freestanding thin films based on nanoindentation techniques. The experimentally measured stiffness-displacement response is applied to a simple membrane model that assumes the film deformation is dominated by stretching as opposed to bending. Dimensional analysis is used to identify appropriate limitations of the proposed model. Experimental verification of the method is demonstrated for Al/0.5 wt% Cu films nominally 22 µm wide, 0.55 µm thick, and 150, 300, and 500 µm long. The estimated modulus for the four freestanding films match the value measured by electrostatic techniques to within 2%, and the residual stress to within 19.1%. The difference in residual stress can be completely accounted for by thermal expansion and a modest change in temperature of 3 °C. Numerous experimental pitfalls are identified and discussed. Collectively, these data and the technique used to generate them should help future investigators make more accurate and precise measurements of the mechanical properties of freestanding thin films using nanoindentation.

Copyright © Materials Research Society 2009

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