Residual stress, a pervasive consequence of solid materials processing, is stress that remains in a material after external forces have been removed. In polymeric materials, residual stress results from processes, such as film formation, that force and then trap polymer chains into nonequilibrium stressed conformations. In solvent-cast films, which are central to a wide range of technologies, residual stress can cause detrimental effects, including microscopic defect formation and macroscopic dimensional changes. Since residual stress is difficult to measure accurately, particularly in nanoscale thin polymer films, it remains a challenge to understand and control. We present here a quantitative method of assessing residual stress in polymer thin films by monitoring the onset of strain-induced wrinkling instabilities. Using this approach, we show that thin (>100 nm) polystyrene films prepared via spin-coating possess residual stresses of30 MPa, close to the crazing and yield stress. In contrast to conventional stress measurement techniques such as wafer curvature, our technique has the resolution to measure residual stress in films as thin as 25 nm. Furthermore, we measure the dissipation of residual stress through two relaxation mechanisms: thermal annealing and plasticizer addition. In quantifying the amount of residual stress in these films, we find that the residual stress gradually decreases with increasing annealing time and plasticizer amounts. Our robust and simple route to measure residual stress adds a key component to the understanding of polymer thin film behavior and will enable identification of more effective processing routes that mitigate the detrimental effects of residual stress.
residual stress, wrinkling, polymer, thin films, annealing