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SMART transfer method to directly compare the mechanical response of water-supported and free-standing ultrathin polymeric fi...

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Nature Communications
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Intrinsic mechanical properties of sub-100 nm thin films are markedly difficult to obtain, yet an ever-growing necessity for emerging fields such as soft organic electronics. To complicate matters, the interfacial contribution plays a major role in such thin films and is often unexplored despite supporting substrates being a main component in current metrologies. Here we present the shear motion assisted robust transfer technique for fabricating free-standing sub-100 nm films and measuring their inherent structural–mechanical properties. We compare these results to water-supported measurements, exploring two phenomena: 1) The influence of confinement on mechanics and 2) the role of water on the mechanical properties of hydrophobic films. Upon confinement, polystyrene films exhibit increased strain at failure, and reduced yield stress, while modulus is reduced only for the thinnest 19 nm film. Water measurements demonstrate subtle differences in mechanics which we elucidate using quartz crystal microbalance and neutron reflectometry.