Monday, December 17, 2007

NIST imaging system maps nanomechanical properties

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has developed an imaging system that quickly maps the mechanical properties of materials—how stiff or stretchy they are, for example—at scales on the order of billionths of a meter. The new tool can be a cost-effective way to design and characterize mixed nanoscale materials such as composites or thin-film structures.
The NIST nanomechanical mapper uses custom software and electronics to process data acquired by a conventional atomic force microscope (AFM), transforming the microscope’s normal topographical maps of surfaces into precise two-dimensional representations of mechanical properties near the surface. The images enable scientists to see variations in elasticity, adhesion or friction, which may vary in different materials even after they are mixed together. The NIST system can make an image in minutes whereas competing systems might take an entire day.

IMAGE: An atomic force microscope normally reveals the topography of a composite material (l.) NIST's new apparatus adds software and electronics to map nanomechanical properties (r.) The NIST system reveals that the glass fibers are stiffer than the surrounding polymer matrix but sometimes soften at their cores.


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