Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Mechanical Engineering & Applied Mechanics

First Advisor

Kevin T. Turner


The adhesion of thin layers of soft polymers is important in many applications, such as tapes, microtransfer printing, and bioinspired adhesives. Traditional adhesion tests based on probe contacts are not suitable for characterizing thin layers and common separation-based specimens, such as the peel test, have well-known limitations. The blister contact test (BCT) was developed in this dissertation to overcome the limitations of current methods and was used to investigate the adhesion and separation of several technologically relevant adhesive systems. In the BCT, a thin sheet was elastically deformed into adhesive contact with a reference substrate and the contact area was optically imaged. Modulated pressure was applied to generate both advancing and receding adhesive contact. Digital image correlation was used to measure the displacements of the specimen. The strain energy release rate at the interface was determined from the measured contact radius, applied pressure, system geometry, and elastic properties of the specimen using a mechanics model. An analytical mechanics model based on von K�rm�n plate theory was developed and used for analysis of the BCT data. Finite element analysis was used to validate and identify the range of applicability of the analytical model.

The BCT was used to investigate the adhesion and separation behaviors of three different polymer adhesive systems. First, experiments between a silicone elastomer (polydimethylsiloxane – PDMS) and a stiff substrate were performed to investigate rate effects in adhesion and separation. For the first time, the rate dependence during advancing contact was characterized. Second, the effect of acid-base interactions on performance of pressure sensitive adhesives (PSAs) was examined via a series of BCTs in which adhesion between different formulations of adhesives and multiple substrates was investigated. Viscoelastic contributions to PSA adhesion were also studied. Finally, the effect of layer thickness on rate dependence was investigated through experiments between polyethylene terephthalate (PET) sheets and PDMS films of different thicknesses. The work in this dissertation demonstrates the flexibility and capability of the BCT as a method to characterize adhesion of flat polymer sheets and provides new understanding of several types of polymer adhesive contacts.

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