WASHINGTON D.C. -- In today's precision manufacturing environment, designers of products as diverse as car airbag sensors, computer microchips, drill bits and paint often need to know the mechanical properties of their materials' down to the nanometer scale. Scientists have now built a machine that sets a new standard of accuracy for testing one of those properties: a material's hardness, which is a measure of its resistance to bumps and scratches.
The new machine is called the Precision Nanoindentation Platform, or PNP. It was created in response to the need to test tiny novel devices, components and coatings in diverse industrial settings, said Douglas Smith, a physicist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Gaithersburg, Maryland, who was part of the design team.
"In the material science community there are more and more components and materials that just don't exist on the macro scale," Smith said. His team tested the new instrument's performance on a synthetic polymer known as poly (methyl methacrylate), or PMMA, which is a lightweight plastic used as a thin film during fabrication processes in the semiconductor industry and employed as thick panels in large aquarium tanks or the spectator protectors that ring hockey rinks.
The work is published in the journal Review of Scientific Instruments, which is produced by AIP Publishing.
How the New Instrument Works
The existing generation of nanoindentation instruments work by bringing a shaft with a tiny, extremely hard tip into contact with a sample and measuring how the sample surface deforms in response to a known applied force. In the past, these instruments typically have been designed to measure the deformation via the displacement of the tip and shaft relative to their mount, but this can lead to measurement error, because the instrument frame can deform under stress or drift due to random thermal gradients in the envir
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American Institute of Physics