A methodology for determining mechanical properties of freestanding thin films and MEMS materials

H. D. Espinosa*, B. C. Prorok, M. Fischer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

300 Scopus citations


We have developed a novel chip-level membrane deflection experiment particularly suited for the investigation of sub-micron thin films and microelectro-mechanical systems. The experiment consists of loading a fixed-fixed membrane with a line load applied at the middle of the span using a nanoindenter. A Mirau microscope interferometer is positioned below the membrane to observe its response in real time. This is accomplished through a micromachined wafer containing a window that exposes the bottom surface of the specimen. A combined atomic force microscope/nanoindenter incorporates the interferometer to allow continuous monitoring of the membrane deflection during both loading and unloading. As the nanoindenter engages and deflects the sample downward, fringes are formed and acquired by means of a CCD camera. Digital monochromatic images are obtained and stored at periodic intervals of time to map the strain field. Stresses and strains are computed independently without recourse to mathematical assumptions or numerical calibrations. Additionally, no restrictions on the material behavior are imposed in the interpretation of the data. In fact, inelastic mechanisms including strain gradient plasticity, piezo and shape memory effects can be characterized by this technique. The test methodology, data acquisition and reduction are illustrated by investigating the response of 1-μm thick gold membranes. A Young's modulus of 53 GPa, a yield stress of 55 MPa and a residual stress of 12 MPa are consistently measured. The post-yield behavior leading to fracture exhibits typical statistical variations associated to plasticity and microcrack initiation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)47-67
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of the Mechanics and Physics of Solids
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2003


  • MEMS materials
  • Mechanical properties
  • Micro-tensile test
  • Thin films

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering


Dive into the research topics of 'A methodology for determining mechanical properties of freestanding thin films and MEMS materials'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this