Nanoindentation experiments inside a transmission electron microscope are of much interest to characterize specific phenomena occuring in materials, like for instance dislocation movements or phase transformations. The key points of these experiments are (i) the sample preparation and the optimization of its geometry to obtain reliable results and (ii) the choice of the transmission electron microscope observation mode, which will condition the type of information which can be deduced from the experiment. In this paper, we will focus on these two key points in the case of nanoindentation of zirconia, which is a ceramic material well known to be sensitive to stress because it can undergo a phase transformation. In this case, the information sought is the stress localization at the nanometre scale and in real time. As far as the sample preparation is concerned, one major drawback of nanoindentation inside a transmission electron microscope is indeed a possible bending of the sample occurring during compression, which is detrimental to the experiment interpretation (the stress is not uniaxial anymore). In this paper, several sample preparation techniques have been used and compared to optimize the geometry of the sample to avoid bending. The results obtained on sample preparation can be useful for the preparation of ceramics samples but can also give interesting clues and experimental approaches to optimize the preparation of other kinds of materials.
The second part of this paper is devoted to the second key point, which is the determination of the stress localization associated to the deformation phenomena observed by nanoindentation experiments. In this paper, the use of convergent beam electron diffraction has been investigated and this technique could have been successfully coupled to nanoindentation experiments. Coupled nanoindentation experiments and convergent beam electron diffraction analyses have finally been applied to characterize the phase transformation of zirconia.