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Mechanical Characterization of Thin Films with Application to Ferroelectrics


Zhang, Rongjing (2006) Mechanical Characterization of Thin Films with Application to Ferroelectrics. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/CJR5-DK94.


One important part of the motivation for this research work comes from the microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) technology. Its basic concept of high volume production and low unit cost can only be achieved when the devices made by microelectronics technique are reliable. The success in this area largely depends on the understanding of materials. However, the mechanical characterization is lagged behind the theoretical work and designing software development. The standard characterization method is still not established. For MEMS actuators, especially for active materials, the desired characterization system for obtaining mechanical properties requires load control feature and the capability of doing dynamic tests. However, there is no such method among the currently available tools for mechanical characterization.

The other part of the motivation comes from the comprehensive research work of Caltech ferroelectric group. This group, which consists of nine faculty members, is aiming to develop new devices, especially new actuators, by the aid of multi-scale theory tools and selected experimental methods. The work presented in this dissertation is an important and key step of this ambitious project: the electromechanical characterization of devices. This will provide validation for the multi-scale materials modeling framework and help to increase the reliability of the actuators and devices.

In this work, two techniques were developed for mechanical characterization, which satisfy the challenging requirements for thin film structures and devices: being able to do dynamic study on fragile ceramic thin film samples with load control feature. The first technique is a new method to characterize mechanical properties of released thin films under concentrated load. This technique can be used to apply load in the ?N?mN range with displacement measured with high accuracy of 0.1 ?m. The successful characterization of Si3N4 free-standing membranes demonstrated the capability and reliability of this new technique. The elastic modulus and residual stress of Si3N4 free-standing thin film were measured to be around 250 GPa and 450 MPa, respectively. These values were in close agreement with values obtained using a different technique as well as those found in the literature. This technique has the potential application on elastic-plastic characterization and characterization of other functional thin film materials such as shape memory alloys.

Pressure bulge test technique, which is another type of load control method suitable for dynamic test, was also developed. The apparatus was designed to be compact to fit into the x-ray diffractometer for in-situ XRD study and had additional compatibility for polarized light microscopy study. Characterization of free standing thin film of single layer amorphous silicon nitride (Si3N4) and multi-layered PBT/Si3N4, and thick film of single crystal barium titanate (BaTiO3) showed the capability and reliability of this technique. Excellent agreement of the Si3N4 Young’s modulus between these two developed methods gave the confidence for using these techniques to understand new materials.

In situ x-ray diffraction study was carried out on the single crystal thick films which were loaded with distributed mechanical loading by pressure bulge setup. Direct evidence of 90o domain switching was obtained from the in situ XRD results with the intensity changing in both (002) and (200) orientations. Obvious changes in domain patterns were observed by using the polarized light microscope. The Young’s modulus of this barium titanate single crystal thick film with thickness of 100 ?m was characterized before the XRD exam. Using this information, in-plane stress can be analyzed, and the relation between the driving force (the stress) and the microstructural change (volume fraction change in a-domain or c-domain) can be determined.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:active material; ferroelctric material; material properties; mechanical characterization; thin film
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Engineering and Applied Science
Major Option:Aeronautics
Minor Option:Applied Physics
Awards:Donald Coles Prize in Aeronautics, 2006. Ernest E. Sechler Memorial Award in Aeronautics, 2005.
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Ravichandran, Guruswami
Thesis Committee:
  • Ravichandran, Guruswami (chair)
  • Molinari, Alain
  • Goodwin, David G.
  • Bhattacharya, Kaushik
  • Haile, Sossina M.
Defense Date:1 June 2005
Record Number:CaltechETD:etd-01312006-170959
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:420
Deposited By: Imported from ETD-db
Deposited On:13 Feb 2006
Last Modified:06 May 2020 22:47

Thesis Files

PDF (ch0_final_R.pdf) - Final Version
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PDF (ch1_final_R.pdf) - Final Version
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PDF (ch2_final_R.pdf) - Final Version
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PDF (ch3_final_R.pdf) - Final Version
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PDF (ch4_final_R.pdf) - Final Version
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PDF (ch5_final_R.pdf) - Final Version
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