As technology progresses towards smaller and higher density microelectronic devices, we are faced with working with atomic-scale dimensions that present us with challenges but also opportunities. Since mechanical and chemical properties of ultra-thin polymeric films can vary dramatically from their bulk, the thermophysical properties of thin films are also expected to vary. Ultra-thin poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA) films have been the focus of numerous investigations in recent years as a data storage medium. Employing Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) technology, it is possible to store data bits by heating a target zone until it melts, which leaves a nano-dimple indentation in the PMMA polymer film. The AFM technology has great potential because it possesses considerable data density when compared to conventional magnetic data storage. Since the amount of heat that needs to be used to melt the nanoscale region of the polymer needs to be precisely controlled, knowing the thermophysical properties of such films is a critical factor in advancing this technology. It is known that heat carriers such as electrons and phonons in metallic and dielectric materials, respectively, are influenced by the “size effect” in the micro and nano-scale dimensions. Therefore, a goal for this investigation is to determine whether any dependence exists between the PMMA’s film thickness and its thermal conductivity.
In this work we investigated whether a “scale effect” on intrinsic thermal conductivity actually exists for amorphous PMMA films with thicknesses ranging from 40 nm to 2 μm. The approach is based on the transient thermoreflectance (TTR) method, where the change in the surface temperature is measured by detecting the change in the reflectivity of the sample. The sample is heated by laser irradiation and probed using a continuous-wave laser that detects changes in the reflectivity of the heated material surface. The experimentally obtained transient temperature signature is then used to extract unknown values of thermal properties. Based on our previous experience with measuring a wide range of thin-film materials and the data available in the literature, we expected a lower thin-film thermal conductivity as compared to the bulk value. Surprisingly, the results show that the intrinsic thermal conductivity of layers thinner than 40 nm PMMA film deposited on native silicon oxide is about three times higher than the bulk PMMA value. A similar trend was observed for all ultra-thin (sub 100 nm) films.