Open-source micro-tensile testers via additive manufacturing for the mechanical characterization of thin films and papers
The cost of specialized scientific equipment can be high and with limited funding resources, researchers and students are often unable to access or purchase the ideal equipment for their projects. In the fields of materials science and mechanical engineering, fundamental equipment such as tensile testing devices can cost tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars. While a research lab often has access to a large-scale testing machine suitable for conventional samples, loading devices for meso- and micro-scale samples for in-situ testing with the myriad of microscopy tools are often hard to source and cost prohibitive. Open-source software has allowed for great strides in the reduction of costs associated with software development and open-source hardware and additive manufacturing have the potential to similarly reduce the costs of scientific equipment and increase the accessibility of scientific research. To investigate the feasibility of open-source hardware, a micro-tensile tester was designed with a freely accessible computer-aided design package and manufactured with a desktop 3D-printer and off-the-shelf components. To our knowledge this is one of the first demonstrations of a tensile tester with additively manufactured components for scientific research. The capabilities of the tensile tester were demonstrated by investigating the mechanical properties of Graphene Oxide (GO) paper and thin films. A 3D printed tensile tester was successfully used in conjunction with an atomic force microscope to provide one of the first quantitative measurements of GO thin film buckling under compression. The tensile tester was also used in conjunction with an atomic force microscope to observe the change in surface topology of a GO paper in response to increasing tensile strain. No significant change in surface topology was observed in contrast to prior hypotheses from the literature. Based on this result obtained with the new open source tensile stage we propose an alternative hypothesis we term ‘superlamellae consolidation’ to explain the initial deformation of GO paper. The additively manufactured tensile tester tested represents cost savings of >99% compared to commercial solutions in its class and offers simple customization. However, continued development is needed for the tensile tester presented here to approach the technical specifications achievable with commercial solutions.