The Role of Nanoindenters

The nanoindenter is one of the primary instruments in the material scientist’s toolkit. They operate by pressing a tip into a material with a calibrated load and measuring the material’s response to this stimulus. The tip of the indenter is made of a very hard material formed into a specific geometry.

The three-sided pyramid tip made of diamond is most commonly used. The load exerted onto the sample is calibrated meticulously so that the response force can be used as a measure of hardness. The geometry of the resulting indentation is measured then analyzed using atomic force microscopy (AFM), electron microscopy, or optical microscopy.

Typical Applications

  • MEMS
  • Materials Science
  • Failure Analysis
  • Polymers
  • Product Testing
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Tribology
  • Manufacturing

Environmental Challenges

Extraneous forces from environmental vibration and acoustic sources can interfere with accurate results because nanoindenters employ very small forces in their measurements. Nanoindentation is often deployed alongside other techniques such as scanning electron microscopy (SEM), transmission electron microscopy (TEM), or atomic force microscopy (AFM). This makes the application vulnerable to the sensitivities of these other techniques.

Nanoindenters are recommended to be placed in a quiet environment with some level of basic vibration control. Utilizing high performance vibration isolation systems is appropriate for more demanding applications.

Furthermore, a soundproof hood or box should be used to provide a basic level of protection to the instrument from air currents and acoustic noise. Materials also contract and expand based on temperature, which means that thermal fluctuation should be monitored and minimized where possible.

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