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A novel interferometric method for the study of the viscoelastic properties of ultra-thin polymer films determined from nanobubble inflation

P. Chapuis , P. C. Montgomery, F. Anstotz, A. Leong-Hoï, C. Gauthier, J. Baschnagel, G. Reiter, G. B. McKenna, and A. Rubin. Review of Scientific Instruments 88 (2017) 093901

Glass formation and glassy behavior remain as the important areas of investigation in soft matter physics with many aspects which are still not completely understood, especially at the nanometer size-scale. In the present work, we show an extension of the “nanobubble inflation” method developed by O’Connell and McKenna [Rev. Sci. Instrum. 78, 013901 (2007)] which uses an interferometric method to measure the topography of a large array of 5 μm sized nanometer thick films subjected to constant inflation pressures during which the bubbles grow or creep with time. The interferometric method offers the possibility of making measurements on multiple bubbles at once as well as having the advantage over the AFM methods of O’Connell and McKenna of being a true non-contact method. Here we demonstrate the method using ultra-thin films of both poly(vinyl acetate) (PVAc) and polystyrene (PS) and discuss the capabilities of the method relative to the AFM method, its advantages and disadvantages. Furthermore we show that the results from experiments on PVAc are consistent with the prior work on PVAc, while high stress results with PS show signs of a new non-linear response regime that may be related to the plasticity of the ultra-thin film.

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