We realise a circular gray-field polariscope to image stress-induced birefringence in thin (sub-micron thick) silicon nitride membranes and strings. This enables quantitative mapping of the orientation of principal stresses and stress anisotropy, complementary to, and in agreement with, finite element modeling. Furthermore, using a sample with a well-known stress anisotropy, we extract a value for the photoelastic (Brewster) coefficient of silicon nitride, C ≈ (3.4 ± 0.1) × 10−6 MPa−1. We explore possible applications of the method to analyse and quality-control stressed membranes with phononic crystal patterns.

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