A novel method to perform nanoscale mechanical characterization of highly deformable nanofibers has been developed. A microelectromechanical system (MEMS) test platform with an on-chip leaf-spring load cell that was tuned with the aid of a focused ion beam was built for fiber gripping and force measurement and it was actuated with an external piezoelectric transducer. Submicron scale tensile tests were performed in ambient conditions under an optical microscope. Engineering stresses and strains were obtained directly from images of the MEMS platform, by extracting the relative rigid body displacements of the device components by digital image correlation. The accuracy in determining displacements by this optical method was shown to be better than 50 nm. In the application of this method, the mechanical behavior of electrospun polyacrylonitrite nanofibers with diameters ranging from 300 to 600 nm was investigated. The stress-strain curves demonstrated an apparent elastic-perfectly plastic behavior with elastic modulus of 7.6±1.5 GPa and large irreversible strains that exceeded 220%. The large fiber stretch ratios were the result of a cascade of periodic necks that formed during cold drawing of the nanofibers.
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