In situ deformation of thin films on substrates



Metallic thin-film plasticity has been widely studied by using the difference between the coefficients of thermal expansion of the film and the underlying substrate to induce stress. This approach is commonly known as the wafer curvature technique, based on the Stoney equation, which has shown that thinner films have higher yield stresses. The linear increase of the film strength as a function of the reciprocal film thickness, down to a couple hundred nanometers, has been rationalized in terms of threading and interfacial dislocations. Polycrystalline films also show this kind of dependence when the grain size is larger than or comparable to the film thickness. In situ TEM performed on plan-view or cross-section specimens faithfully reproduces the stress state and the small strain levels seen by the metallic film during wafer curvature experiments and simultaneously follows the change in its microstructure. Although plan-view experiments are restricted to thinner films, cross-sectional samples where the film is reduced to a strip (or nanowire) on its substrate are a more versatile configuration. In situ thermal cycling experiments revealed that the dislocation/interface interaction could be either attractive or repulsive depending on the interfacial structure. Incoherent interfaces clearly act as dislocation sinks, resulting in a dislocation density drop during thermal cycles. In dislocation-depleted films (initially thin or annealed), grain boundaries can compensate for the absence of dislocations by either shearing the film similarly to threading dislocations or through fast diffusion processes. Conversely, dislocations are confined inside the film by image forces in the cases of epitaxial interfaces on hard substrates. To increase the amount of strain seen by a film, and to decouple the effects of stress and temperature, compliant substrates can also be used as support for the metallic film. The composite can be stretched at a given temperature using heating/cooling straining holders. Other in situ TEM methods that served to reveal scaling effects are also reviewed. Finally, an alternate method, based on a novel bending holder that can stretch metallic films on rigid substrates, is presented. Microsc. Res. Tech., 2009. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.