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For the inspection of surface topography, nanomechanical characterization can provide crucial information concerning the performance of a material. The nanoindenter, especially the scanning nanoindenter, is a powerful tool for nanomechanical characterization. Although the majority of commercial nanoindenters provide high force and displacement sensitivity, their low bandwidth has hindered their use in applications demanding fast operation. Such applications include industrial in-line testing, wafer inspection, and high-throughput screening in combinatorial materials discovery. In order to extend a nanoindenter¿s application to fast-operation mode, this project will develop a new nanoindentation transducer, along with control electronics and software. The transducer will be designed to have lateral actuation in addition to the typical normal actuation. The lateral actuation will replace piezo-scanner actuation and reduce topography distortion caused by transient motion. The resulting fast-scanning nanoindenter will be capable of generating one image frame per second, while maintaining the same image quality as current nanoindenters that operate at a 1-Hz line-scan rate. Commercial Applications and other Benefits as described by the awardee:A fast-scanning nanoindenter should greatly reduce the time required to characterize a sample and could eventually enable whole-sample inspection as an industrial in-line tester. The instrument should be especially useful for industries that suffer from inconsistent product quality caused by spatial variations in materials properties. Potential industrial applications should be found in the semiconductor, data storage, polymer, and pharmaceutical industries.
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