2024 Thin film and small scale mechanics

Theory, Experimental methods, Instrumentation, Applications

12 – 15 November, 2024 / Empa, Thun

The course focuses on mechanics of solid thin films and small scale structures and on state-of-the-art experimental techniques employed for evaluation and extraction of their micromechanical properties. Lectures are example intensive, with in depth theoretical analysis. The block-type half day course lectures conclude with instrument demonstrations in the laboratories and related hands-on training and exercises.


Introduction, Microstructure of Materials, Materials Mechanics, Contact Mechanics, Mechanics of Thin Films, Mechanics of small scale structures, Size effects, Micromechanical sample preparation, Small scale mechanical testing techniques and instrumentation, Methods to assess adhesion, residual stress, and tribological properties.

The course focuses on mechanics of solid thin films and small scale structures. It commences with a review of concepts in materials microstructure (bond types, crystallography, amorphous materials) and material mechanics (stress and strain, linear elasticity, plasticity, linear fracture mechanics, time-dependent behavior, fatigue). This is followed by an overview of the field of thin film and contact mechanics. A brief introduction is given concerning thin film deposition and characterization methods. Stress evolution in thin films is covered in detail as is the effect stress may have on the solid thin film failure (e.g. fracture mechanics of the interfaces and thin films, delamination and buckling of thin films, contract fracture mechanics). Testing methods to assess film adhesion, residual stress levels and tribological properties are reviewed. Further, lectures will cover mechanisms of plasticity and fracture and related size effects encountered when testing intrinsic properties of microscale samples and thin films.

Lectures will be example intensive, with a due attention given to understanding mechanics of these important examples. A whole section of the course will be focusing on state-of-the-art experimental techniques available today for evaluation and extraction of thin films and small scale structure mechanical properties (nanoindentation, micropillar compression, microtension, experiments at cryogenic or elevated temperature, high strain rate testing). The block-type half day course lectures conclude with instrument demonstrations and related laboratory training and exercises.

Note: The course will be held at Empa in Thun (Feuerwerkerstrasse 39, 3602 Thun) so that participants can witness and take part in actual experimental evaluations and testing of thin films.

Learning Prerequisites

Basic knowledge of solid mechanics and materials (e.g. elasticity, strength of materials, continuum mechanics, microstructure and chemistry of materials)

Assessment methods

Written exam


L.B. Freund and S. Suresh, Thin Film Materials, Cambridge Univ. Press 2004

J. Menčík, Mechanics of Components with Treated or Coated Surfaces, Springer, 1995

The textbooks are not necessary for course participation. Handouts and lecture notes will be provided to the participants and contain sufficient information to follow the lecture and pass the exam. The textbooks are meant as valuable reference for anyone working in the field.


Prof. Johann Michler


Johann Michler is head of the Laboratory of Mechanics of Materials and Nanostructures at Empa. He received his diploma in Materials Science at the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg in Germany in 1995 and a PhD degree in Materials Science at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne, Switzerland in 2000. He has been lecturer at EPFL since 2005. At Empa he started his activities as staff scientist in mechanical properties of thin films in 2000. His current research interest focuses on scale dependent mechanical properties of materials. His research efforts include the development of in-situ SEM, Raman, AFM mechanical testing methods and novel synthesis methods for metals and semiconductors like electrochemical or physical vapor deposition. He is the author or co-author of more than 300 publications, has organized several international conferences, and is the co-founder of two start-ups.

Dr. Jakob Schwiedrzik


Jakob Schwiedrzik is group leader for Architectured Materials at the Laboratory for Mechanics of Materials and Nanostructures. He received his diploma in Mechanical Engineering from Vienna University of Technology in 2010 and his PhD in Biomedical Engineering from University of Bern in 2014. He joined Empa in 2014 as a Postdoc working on nanomechanical instrument and method development. In 2017, he received a SNSF Ambizione grant that allowed him to start an independent research team. Since 2021, he leads the group for Architectured Materials. Dr. Schwiedrzik’s research interests lie in the design, synthesis, and multiscale analysis of architectured materials through combined experimental and modeling approaches. He investigates fundamental processes of small scale plasticity under extreme conditions, e.g. cryogenic temperatures and high strain rates. Furthermore, he studies multiscale failure and toughening mechanisms in existing hierarchical materials such as bone or wood. This knowledge is translated into the simulation-guided design, synthesis, and characterization of microscale metamaterials that fill desirable white spots in Ashby diagrams and feature unusual combinations of properties.

Registration and participation fees

You can register for the course through this link. Please note that payment is required upon registration via the SaferPay payment solution. Please do not register until you are ready to make the payment via credit card, Paypal or Twint. EPFL students only may request to have the invoice sent directly to their labs. Please contact Carey Sargent if you have any questions. Please note that the registration deadline is Friday, 5 July 2024 and that the course is limited to 18 participants.

The fee is CHF200 for doctoral students from EPFL and Empa. The fee is CHF350 for doctoral students from other academic institutions and CHF600 for other academic researchers. The registration fee for all other participants is CHF1500. 


Travel and accommodation should be reserved and paid for directly by the participants.