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Characterization of Nanoindentation on Copper using Atomic Force Microscopy

Anton Paar’s atomic force microscope Tosca™ 400 was used, to analyze the indentation’s surface area, volume and depth of a crystalline copper sample as well as the pile-ups’ surface area, volume and height that come along with nanoindentation.

Nanoindentation is a technique for measuring the mechanical properties of materials. It utilizes an indenter or a probe with a defined shape and under a defined load to make an indent into the surface to be measured. It is widely used for measuring the hardness and elastic modulus of bulk materials or coatings at the nanoscale, especially for crystalline metallic materials. A side-effect of the indentation process is that the indented material can "pile up" or "sink in" around the indent. Such pile-up and sink-in effects can cause incorrect estimations of the contact area, leading to over- or underestimation of the mechanical properties calculated via traditional Oliver–Pharr approach.

Atomic force microscopy (AFM), however, can provide high-resolution imaging of nanoindentation, and enables the true contact area to be measured. In contrast to optical or electron microscopy, AFM provides images with not only high lateral resolution, but also high vertical resolution. This means that the user can construct a real 3D image of the indentation. Here, we use the new AFM from Anton Paar, the Tosca™ 400, to visualize and quantitatively analyze nanoindentation and pile-up geometries on a crystalline copper sample.

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