Fatigue Failure in Polysilicon Not Due to Simple Stress Corrosion Cracking

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Science  08 Nov 2002:
Vol. 298, Issue 5596, pp. 1215-1218
DOI: 10.1126/science.298.5596.1215

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In the absence of a corrosive environment, brittle materials such as silicon should be immune to cyclic fatigue. However, fatigue effects are well known in micrometer-sized polycrystalline silicon (polysilicon) samples tested in air. To investigate the origins of this phenomenon in polysilicon, we developed a fixed-grip fracture mechanics microspecimen but could find no evidence of static stress corrosion cracking. The environmental sensitivity of the fatigue resistance was also investigated under cyclic loading. For low-cycle fatigue, the behavior is independent of the ambient conditions, whether air or vacuum, but is strongly influenced by the ratio of compressive to tensile stresses experienced during each cycle. The fatigue damage most likely originates from contact stresses at processing-related surface asperities; subcritical crack growth then ensues during further cyclic loading. The lower far-field stresses involved in high-cycle fatigue induce reduced levels of fatigue damage. Under these conditions, a corrosive ambient such as laboratory air exacerbates the fatigue process. Without cyclic loading, polysilicon does not undergo stress corrosion cracking.

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