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Abstract / Description of output
The nanomechanical properties of biocompatible thin-shell hollow polymer microspheres with approximately constant ratio of shell thickness to microsphere diameter were measured by nanocompression tests in aqueous conditions. These microspheres encapsulate an inert gas and are used as ultrasound contrast agents by releasing free microbubbles in the presence of an ultrasound field as a result of free gas leakage from the shell. The tests were performed using an atomic force microscope (AFM) employing the force−distance curve technique. An optical microscope, on which the AFM was mounted, was used to guide the positioning of tipless cantilevers on top of individual microspheres. We performed a systematic study using several cantilevers with spring constants varying from 0.08 to 2.3 N/m on a population of microspheres with diameters from about 2 to 6 μm. The use of several cantilevers with various spring constants allowed a systematic study of the mechanical properties of the microsphere thin shell at different regimes of force and deformation. Using thin-shell mechanics theory for small deformations, the Young’s modulus of the thin wall material was estimated and was shown to exhibit a strong size effect: it increased as the shell became thinner. The Young’s modulus of thicker microsphere shells converged to the expected value for the macroscopic bulk material. For high applied forces, the force−deformation profiles showed a reversible and/or irreversible nonlinear behavior including “steps” and “jumps” which were attributed to mechanical instabilities such as buckling events.