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ACS Nano. 2008 Mar;2(3):419-28. doi: 10.1021/nn700211g.

Measuring glassy and viscoelastic polymer flow in molecular-scale gaps using a flat punch mechanical probe.

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Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, Illinois 61801, USA.


This paper investigates molecular-scale polymer mechanical deformation during large-strain squeeze flow of polystyrene (PS) films, where the squeeze flow gap is close to the polymer radius of gyration (R(g)). Stress-strain and creep relations were measured during flat punch indentation from an initial film thickness of 170 nm to a residual film thickness of 10 nm in the PS films, varying molecular weight (M(w)) and deformation stress rate by over 2 orders of magnitude while temperatures ranged from 20 to 125 degrees C. In stress-strain curves exhibiting an elastic-to-plastic yield-like knee, the response was independent of M(w), as expected from bulk theory for glassy polymers. At high temperatures and long times sufficient to extinguish the yield-knee, the mechanical response M(w) degeneracy was broken, but no molecular confinement effects were observed during thinning. Creep measurements in films of 44K M(w) were well-approximated by bulk Newtonian no-slip flow predictions. For extrusions down to a film thickness of 10 nm, the mechanical relaxation in these polymer films scaled with temperature similar to Williams-Landel-Ferry scaling in bulk polymer. Films of 9000K M(w), extruded from an initial film thickness of 2R(g) to a residual film thickness of 0.5R(g), while showing stress-strain viscoelastic response similar to that of films of 900K M(w), suggestive of shear-thinning behavior, could not be matched to a constitutive flow model. In general, loading rate and magnitude influenced subsequent creep extrusion depth of high-M(w) films, with deeper final extrusions for high loading rates than for low loading rates. The measurements suggest that, for high-resolution nanoimprint lithography, mold flash or final residual film thickness can be reduced for high strain and strain rate loading of high-M(w) thin films.

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