Nature Materials

A buckling-based metrology for measuring the elastic moduli of polymeric thin films

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As technology continues towards smaller, thinner and lighter devices, more stringent demands are placed on thin polymer films as diffusion barriers, dielectric coatings, electronic packaging and so on. Therefore, there is a growing need for testing platforms to rapidly determine the mechanical properties of thin polymer films and coatings. We introduce here an elegant, efficient measurement method that yields the elastic moduli of nanoscale polymer films in a rapid and quantitative manner without the need for expensive equipment or material-specific modelling. The technique exploits a buckling instability that occurs in bilayers consisting of a stiff, thin film coated onto a relatively soft, thick substrate. Using the spacing of these highly periodic wrinkles, we calculate the film's elastic modulus by applying well-established buckling mechanics. We successfully apply this new measurement platform to several systems displaying a wide range of thicknessess (nanometre to micrometre) and moduli (MPa to GPa).