The mechanical properties of thin metal films as compared to their bulk counterparts have been in the focus of materials science in the recent years. Owing to their technological importance, almost only metals with a face centered cubic structure like copper and aluminum have attracted scientific interest. Thin films made of bcc metals, on the other hand, have been largely neglected.
However, from a scientific point of view, the mechanical properties of bcc metals are of special interest. As an example, the yield stress of bcc metals is strongly temperature dependent for low temperatures, while it shows a behavior similar to fcc metals for higher temperatures. This is often referred to as the brittle to ductile transition (BDT). Despite intense research the underlying mechanisms leading to this phenomenon are still not understood in full detail. A major problem is the understanding of dislocation dynamics on the microscopic scale, which is different from that of fcc metals because of the special symmetry of the crystal system.
A first step is to verify in thin films that for temperatures above the BDT the thermomechanical behavior of bcc metals resembles that of fcc metals. As a model system we chose iron with a BDT temperature slightly above room temperature. We deposited iron by means of an MBE system on sapphire substrates. The so-produced epitaxial thin iron films with thicknesses above 50 nm were then thermally cycled from room temperature to 540°C in a vacuum substrate curvature apparatus to test their thermomechanical behavior.
We will present the results of substrate curvature measurements performed with iron films of different thicknesses and discuss similarities and differences to results obtained for metals with fcc crystal structures.