The design of reliable micro electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) requires understanding of material properties of devices, especially for free-standing thin structures such as membranes, bridges, and cantilevers. The desired characterization system for obtaining mechanical properties of active materials often requires load control. However, there is no such device among the currently available tools for mechanical characterization of thin films. In this paper, a new technique, which is load-controlled and especially suitable for testing highly fragile free-standing structures, is presented. The instrument developed for this purpose has the capability of measuring both the static and dynamic mechanical response and can be used for electro∕magneto∕thermo mechanical characterization of actuators or active materials. The capabilities of the technique are demonstrated by studying the behavior of 75nm thick amorphous silicon nitride (Si3N4) membranes. Loading up to very large deflections shows excellent repeatability and complete elastic behavior without significant cracking or mechanical damage. These results indicate the stability of the developed instrument and its ability to avoid local or temporal stress concentration during the entire experimental process. Finite element simulations are used to extract the material properties such as Young’s modulus and residual stress of the membranes. These values for Si3N4 are in close agreement with values obtained using a different technique, as well as those found in the literature. Potential applications of this technique in studying functional thin film materials, such as shape memory alloys, are also discussed.

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