Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Robert J. Lad

Second Committee Member

William N. Unertl

Third Committee Member

Richard A. Morrow


The deformation behavior of atomically clean, nanometer sized tungsten / gold contacts was studied at room temperature in ultra-high vacuum. An instrument that combines atomic force microscopy (AFM), scanning tunneling microscopy (STM), and field ion microscopy (FIM) into a single experimental apparatus was designed, constructed, and calibrated. A cross-hair force sensor having a spring constant of - 442 N/m was developed and its motion was monitored during indentation experiments with a differential interferometer. Tungsten tips of controlled size (12.8 nm < tip radius < 2 1.6 nm) were first shaped and characterized using FIM and then indented into a Au (1 10) single crystal to depths ranging from 1.5 nrn to 18 nm using the force sensor. Continuum mechanics models were found to be valid in predicting elastic deformation during initial contact and plastic zone depths despite our small size regime. Multiple discrete yielding events lasting < 1.5 ms were observed during the plastic deformation regime; at the yield points a maximum value for the principal shear stress was measured to be 5 + 1 GPa. During tip withdrawal, "pop-out" events relating to material relaxation within the contact were observed. Adhesion between the tip and sample led to experimental signatures that suggest neck formation prior to the break of contact. STM images of indentation holes revealed various shapes that can be attributed to the (1 1 1 ) (1 10) crystallographic slip system in gold. FIM images of the tip after indentation showed no evidence of tip damage