Characterization of local elastic modulus in confined polymer films via AFM indentation

Xu Cheng, Karl W. Putz, Charles D. Wood, L. Catherine Brinson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Scopus citations


The properties of polymers near an interface are altered relative to their bulk value due both to chemical interaction and geometric confinement effects. For the past two decades, the dynamics of polymers in confined geometries (thin polymer film or nanocomposites with high-surface area particles) has been studied in detail, allowing progress to be made toward understanding the origin of the dynamic effects near interfaces. Observations of mechanical property enhancements in polymer nanocomposites have been attributed to similar origins. However, the existing measurement methods of these local mechanical properties have resulted in a variety of conflicting results on the change of mechanical properties of confined polymers. Here, an atomic force microscopy (AFM)-based method is demonstrated that directly measures the mechanical properties of polymers adjacent to a substrate with nanometer resolution. This method allows us to consistently observe the gradient in mechanical properties away from a substrate in various materials systems, and paves the way for a unified understanding of thermodynamic and mechanical response of polymers. This gradient is both longer (up to 170 nm) and of higher magnitude (50% increase) than expected from prior results. Through the use of this technique, we will be better able to understand how to design polymer nanocomposites and polymeric structures at the smallest length scale, which affects the fields of structures, electronics, and healthcare. (Graph Presented)

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)391-397
Number of pages7
JournalMacromolecular Rapid Communications
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 1 2015


  • AFM indentation
  • Nanocomposites
  • Nanomechanical test
  • Polymer interphase

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Organic Chemistry
  • Polymers and Plastics
  • Materials Chemistry


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