Breakdown of SwissCluster-1 (SC-1)Atomic layer Deposition (ALD) – Physical Vapor Deposition (PVD) system capable of precision combinatorial thin film synthesis at gradient and elevated temperatures. (Expected installation: Summer 2023)
Nano-mechanical testing strategies: (a) spherical nanoindentation (b) micro-compression (c) micro-tensile (d) crack propagation in a micro-3-point bend
Our lab houses a state-of-the-art  thin film deposition system, multiple nano-mechanical testing instruments, and metallographic sample preparation equipment.

The nano-mechanical testing equipment includes:

  • three ex-situ (in air) nanoindentation systems,
  • two in-situ nano-mechanical test systems that work in conjunction with a scanning electron microscope (SEM).

The thin film deposition system consists:

  • the SwissCluster-1, a modular thin film deposition system capable of synthesizing atomic layer deposition (ALD) and physical vapor deposition (PVD) layers to fabricate unique microstructure.

These instruments were funded through the ISU Cost Sharing Program for Research Tools – CoSPRT, 2021 DURIP (ARO) grant, 2017 NSF Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) grant #1726897, DOE Scientific Infrastructure Support for Consolidated Innovative Nuclear Research, and the 2017 LANL Laboratory Education Equipment Gift (LEEG) program.

Nano-mechanical Testing

Nanoindenter XP

The laboratory hosts a Keysight/Agilent Nanoindenter® XP, an ex-situ (in air) mechanical properties microprobe designed to provide a fast and reliable way to acquire mechanical data on a submicron scale.

Key Features:

  • Well-developed methods for characterizing material properties of small material volumes.
  • Elastic modulus and hardness of metals, ceramics, other hard materials, and thin films.
  • Viscoelastic properties of materials using harmonic loading.
  • Time-dependent properties are under constant load (creep response) or displacement (relaxation response).
  • Fracture behavior of thin films and brittle materials.
  • Scratch testing to determine film adhesion, coefficient of friction, and a variation of properties with depth.
  • NanoVision Option probes the surface of a sample, generating a 3D map of the surface.
  • Multiple probe geometries – Berkovich, Vickers, cube-corner, spherical, flat punch, etc.
  • Capable of dynamic properties characterization via continuous measurement of stiffness (CSM) with indentation depth.

Funding acknowledgement:
NSF-CMMI (EAGER) Award #1541918 Equipment Supplement grant, and Los Alamos National Laboratory Education Equipment Gift Program (LEEG).

Hysitron TI 950 TriboIndenter

Hysitron TI 950 TriboIndenter nanoindenter has been developed as an automated, high throughput instrument to support the numerous nano-mechanical and nanotribological characterization techniques developed by Bruker.

Key Features:

  • Superior Control and Sensitivity: Bruker’s performance-leading feedback control algorithms and superior measurement sensitivity provide precise control for all Hysitron nano-mechanical testing techniques.
  • Nanoscale dynamic mechanical analysis (nanoDMA® III) to measure viscoelastic properties at the molecular level, on individual polymer phases, and on polymeric interfaces.
  • NanoDMA® III, combined with temperature control capabilities, can perform time-temperature-superposition studies on nanoscale volumes of material.
  • Interfacial adhesion property characterization of thin-film/substrate systems through the identification of delamination events.
  • Scratch testing to better understand fundamental tribological properties, including nanoscale wear and friction properties within and across individual phases and components.
  • Capacitive Transducer Technology: Proprietary capacitive transducer technology provides unprecedented measurement sensitivity (<30 nN, <0.2 nm), accuracy, and reliability during the nanoindentation process. Electrostatic actuation uses little current, enabling superior drift characteristics that result in faster data acquisition, higher accuracy, and better repeatability.
  • Creep and stress relaxation measurements made possible due to tight feedback control algorithms.
  • High-Resolution Optics with In-Situ SPM Imaging: Top-down optics with a color CCD camera have been incorporated into the Hysitron TI 950 TriboIndenter for high magnification and visual observation of sample surfaces and the selection of testing locations. For greater precision in probe placement, in-situ SPM imaging can be used to refine the probe position to within ±10 nm. The dual modes of imaging provided by the Hysitron TI 950 allow precise positioning of the probe to accommodate the multitude of applications for which it is used.

PI85 SEM PicoIndenter

The PI 85 is a depth-sensing indenter that can be interfaced with a scanning electron microscope (SEM). With this system, it is possible to perform quantitative nano-mechanical testing while simultaneously imaging with the SEM. Coupling these two techniques allows the researcher to accurately position the probe and image the deformation process throughout the test.

Key features:

  • Quantitative measurement of nano-mechanical properties, including hardness, stiffness, and modulus
  • Hysitron’s patented transducer provides electrostatic actuation and capacitive displacement sensing
  • Multiple control modes, including closed-loop displacement control, closed-loop load control, and open-loop load
  • Modes of mechanical testing include indentation, compression, bend, and tensile.
  • Proprietary Q-Control mode actively dampens transducer oscillations.
  • Multiple modes of mechanical testing include indentation, compression, bend, tensile, and fatigue.
  • Interchangeable probes are available in various geometries to meet the demands of different test types.
  • In-Situ Mechanical Testing at Extreme Temperatures, Nanoindentation + Heating up to 800°C (optional).
  • The NanoDynamic™ mode provides sinusoidal loading at frequencies up to 300 Hz to evaluate the time-dependent response of a broad range of materials.


Alemnis Indenter system

The Alemnis Indenter system is available to the PI (Prof. S. Pathak) through the 2021 DURIP (ARO) (Program Manager: Dr. Daniel P. Cole) grant and the 2018 infrastructure grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE-UNR-DE-NE0008739).

The link to the following news can be found here: https://www.defense.gov/Newsroom/Releases/Release/Article/2430566/dod-awards-50-million-in-university-research-equipment-awards/



Key Features:

  • This is a unique system (and different from other manufacturers) because it is a depth-controlled system. Most nano-mechanical systems are load controlled. Being depth-controlled it will allow us to perform high strain rate measurements (up to 1000/s strain rates). There is also the possibility of reaching higher strain rates in the future. High strain rate measurements allow us to perform strain rate jump tests and measure activation energies and activation volumes from sub-micrometre-sized specimens. No other manufacturer (the US or non-US) has this capability.
  • Ability to combine with other techniques like EBSD, synchrotron x-rays, micro-Raman, etc.
  • Ability to perform mechanical tests in a low vacuum environment for imaging non-conductive samples.
  • Ability to operate as a standalone instrument under an optical microscope (when the SEM is booked/unavailable).
  • A small, compact, portable system that can be moved between labs/buildings.
  • True displacement control mode for studying stable crack propagation in fracture, stress relaxation, etc.
  • Covering a wide load range from 4µN up to 1.5N.
  • Ability to perform under cryo- (down to -150oC) and elevated (up to 1000oC) temperatures.

iMicro Nanoindenter 

The iMicro nanoindeter is a compact tabletop platform to perform nanoscale testing over extensive range of materials including metals, ceramics, composites, thin films, coatings, polymers, biomaterials and gels.

Key Features:

  • InForce 1000 actuator for capacitance displacement measurement and electromagnetic force actuation with interchangeable tips
  • InQuest high-speed controller electronics with 100kHz data acquisition rate and 20µs time constant
  • XY motion system with easy mounting magnetic sample holder
  • High stiffness gantry with integrated vibration isolation
  • Integrated microscope with digital zoom for precise indentation targeting
  • ISO 14577 and standardized test methods
  • InView software package with RunTest, ReviewData, InFocus reporting, InView University online training and InView mobile application

Thin Film Deposition 


The SwissCluster-1 possesses a deposition with a cluster design capable of performing both atomic layer deposition (ALD) and physical vapor deposition (PVD) without breaking the vacuum for precision deposition with unique microstructures.

Key Features:

  • Capable of gradient and elevated temperature deposition up to 400°C
  • In-situ stress measurement system for measuring the curvature during deposition
  • Up to 12 precursors with individual inlets for a wide variety of ALD depositions
  • Up to 4 magnetrons with 2 in. targets for multielemental or multialloy deposition
  • Modular components for individual processes, and customizable panels for viewports and other in-situ analysis equipment
  • Compact cluster design allows for ease of installation and maintenance
  • High power impulse magnetron sputtering (HiPIMS) compatible
  • System base PVD pressure or 5 x 10-7 mbar and 5 x 10-3 mbar for clean deposition
  • Optical emission spectroscopy compatible for process analytics and optimizing recipes

Metallographic Sample Preparation





The metallographic sample preparation equipment includes:

Mechanical Polishers

Buehler MetaServ™ 250

Key Features:

  • Twin base grinder-polisher with a speed range of 50-500 rpm.
  • Adjustable water flow nozzle and built-in drain.
  • Easy-to-use control panel.
  • Quick access to an emergency stop.

Allied MetPrep3™/PH-3™

Key Features:

  • External control box for protection of critical components.
  • Clockwise and counterclockwise platen rotation.
  • Variable platen jog speed: 40-600 rpm.
  • Programmable up to 25 polishing steps.
  • Corrosion/impact-resistant cover.


Struers Tegramin-25

Key Features:

  • Automatic, microprocessor-controlled machine for grinding and polishing of specimens.
  • 250 mm MD-Disk with cone.
  • Method database for materials.
  • Advanced dosing functions ensure constant dosing levels of diamond suspension and lubricant.

Vibratory Polisher

PACE Technologies GIGA-0900

Key Features:

  • Frequency Controller
  • Voltage controller
  • Multiple size holders (1-inch up to 2-inch diameter)
  • Timer control

Electrolytic Polisher

Struers LectroPol-5


Key Feature:

  • Fully Automatic, microprocessor-controlled electrolytic polishing and Etching apparatus.
  • Scanning function for determination of parameters.
  • Includes method database for a wide range of materials, which can be used as starting points for developing methods for other materials.

Inverted Metallurgical Microscope

Olympus GX51

Key Features:

  • GX51 is available for brightfield, darkfield, DIC, and simple polarization observations.
  • Switching between brightfield and darkfield is simple and easy with ergonomic efficiency.
  • Operator controls are located in front of the frame for ease of operation and user comfort when inspecting large numbers of samples.
  • Excellent Image Clarity and Superb Resolution.
  • UIS2 optics delivers bright, sharp, high-resolution images suitable for all observation methods: brightfield, darkfield, differential interference contrast, polarization, and fluorescence.
  • Designed with specific wavefront aberration controls and speciality coatings for color fidelity, UIS2 optics ensure images are true to form and highly resolved.