Nanoindentation for Thin Film < 100 nm

Nanoindentation is the preferred method for testing thin film and surface mechanical properties of regular solids. Nanoindentation is used to measure the elastic modulus, hardness, and fracture toughness.

Last Updated: May 3rd, 2022 First Published :


How nanoindentation test method works 

A diamond indenter with a tip as small as 100 nm is used in this test (Figure 1). The diamond point is lowered and pressed into the test sample with a known load, for a specified dwell time, and the dimension of the resulting indentation is measured using a microscope. The area of the indentation and the weight of the load are then used to calculate the hardness of the thin film material. Figure 2 shows a schematic diagram of rockwell superficial hardness test assembly.

Figure 1: A diamond indenter and its parts

Strengths of nanoindentation test

  1. Quick and easy measurement of a wide variety of materials. 
  2. Determination of many mechanical properties. 
  3. The preparation of samples is easy. 
  4. Films thicker than 10 nm can be tested.
  5. Determination of local properties of homogeneous as well as heterogeneous materials.
  6. Fewer samples are required. 
  7. Nanoindentation does not require a powerful microscope to measure the impression of the indentation
Figure 2: Rockwell superficial hardness test assembly diagram

Limitations nanoindentation test

  1. Pile up and sink in on the edges of the indent during indentation. 
  2. Limited to linear, isotropic materials.
  3. It is challenging to test soft materials. 
  4. The interpretation of the result is difficult because the elastic modulus is tip-dependent. 
  5. It is difficult to test materials with rough surfaces.
Figure 3: (A) Dynamic nanoindentation with continuous stiffness measurement (CSM) [1]; Nanoindentation induced deformation in a silicon crystal [2]

Uses of nanoindentation test

Nanoindentation is used to determine the mechanical properties of the microstructure of a wide range of materials. It is used to characterize thin films in electronics, and coatings for thermal barriers. It is also used to determine viscoelastic properties, microhardness, and scratch and wear resistance of different products.

Sample requirements

The specimen should be solid. It should be small in size, 2 cm x 2 cm. Its surface should be smooth and flat. 


[1] Jiapeng, S., Cheng, L., Han, J. et al. Nanoindentation Induced Deformation and Pop-in Events in a Silicon Crystal: Molecular Dynamics Simulation and Experiment. Sci Rep 7, 10282 (2017). 


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