Design and operation of a MEMS-based material testing system for nanomechanical characterization

Horacio D. Espinosa*, Yong Zhu, Nicolaie Moldovan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

146 Scopus citations


In situ mechanical characterization of nanostructures, such as carbon nanotubes and metallic nanowires, in scanning and transmission electron microscopes is essential for the understanding of material behavior at the nanoscale. This paper describes the design, fabrication, and operation of a novel microelectromechanical-systems (MEMS)-based material testing system used for in situ tensile testing of nanostructures. The device consists of an actuator and a load sensor with a specimen in between. Two types of actuators, in-plane thermal and comb drive actuators, are used to pull the specimens in displacement control and force control modes, respectively. The load sensor works based on differential capacitive sensing, from which the sensor displacement is recorded. By determining sensor stiffness from mechanical resonance measurements, the load on the specimen is obtained. Load sensors with different stiffness were fabricated. The best resolutions were achieved with load sensors that are designed for testing nanotubes, reaching 0.05 fF in capacitance, 1 nm in displacement, and 12 nN in load. For the first time, this MEMS-based material testing scheme offers the possibility of continuous observation of the specimen deformation and fracture with subnanometer resolution, while simultaneously measuring the applied load electronically with nano-Newton resolution. The overall device performance is demonstrated by testing freestanding cofabricated polysilicon films and multiwalled carbon nanotubes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1219-1231
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Microelectromechanical Systems
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2007


  • Capacitive sensing
  • Carbon nanotubes
  • In situ microscopy
  • Load sensor
  • Nanomechanics
  • Nanostructure
  • Nanowires

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering

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