One of the primary instruments in the material scientist’s toolkit is the nanoindenter. Nanoindenters operate by pressing a tip into a material with a calibrated load and then measuring the material’s response to this stimulus. The indenter’s tip is made of a very hard material formed into a specific geometry. The most commonly used tip is a three-sided pyramid tip made of diamond. The load exerted onto the sample is carefully calibrated so that the response force can be used as a measure of hardness. The geometry of the resulting indentation is measured and analyzed using optical microscopy, atomic force microscopy (AFM), or electron microscopy.
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Nanoindenters employ very small forces in their measurements, so extraneous forces from environmental acoustic and vibration sources can interfere with accurate results. Nanoindentation is often deployed in concert with other techniques like atomic force microscopy (AFM), transmission electron micrscopy (TEM), or scanning electron microscopy (SEM), which makes the application vulnerable to the sensitivities of these other techniques.
It is recommended that nanoindenters be placed in a quiet environment and some basic level of vibration control should be employed. For more demanding applications, utilizing high performance vibration isolation systems would be appropriate. A box or soundproof hood should also be used to provide the instrument with a basic level of protection from acoustic noise and air currents. Also, materials expand and contract based on temperature so thermal fluctuation should be monitored and, wherever possible, minimized.