PhD Thesis Defenses

PhD Thesis Defense: Probing nonlinear electrical properties at the nanoscale: Studies in multifrequency AFM

Abstract [en]

Nanostructured materials promise great advances in diverse and active research fields such as energy harvesting and storage, corrosion prevention and high-density memories. Electrical characterization at the nanometer scale is key to understanding and optimizing the performance of these materials, and therefore central to the progress of nanotechnology. One of the most versatile tools for this purpose is the atomic force microscope (AFM), thanks to its ability to image surfaces with high spatial resolution.

In this thesis we present several multifrequency techniques for AFM. Intermodulation electrostatic force microscopy (ImEFM) measures the potential of a surface with low noise and high spatial resolution. In contrast to traditionally available methods, ImEFM does not use a feedback-controlled bias to measure the surface potential, and is therefore suitable to measurements in liquid environments. Removing feedback allows the applied bias to be used for investigating charge injection and extraction on nanocomposite materials. Intermodulation conductive AFM (ImCFM) measures the current-voltage characteristic of a sample at every point of an AFM image. ImCFM is able to separate the galvanic and displacement contributions to the measured current, improving the measurement speed by four orders of magnitude compared to previously available methods. We finally demonstrate an alternative approach to pump-probe spectroscopy, which allows the AFM to measure electrical charge dynamics with a time resolution approaching the nanosecond range.

These techniques are based on intermodulation spectroscopy, and they demonstrate the power and flexibility of measuring and analyzing nonlinear response in the frequency domain. The nonlinearity of the tip-surface force is used to concentrate response in a narrow band around the resonance of the AFM cantilever, where force measurement sensitivity is at the thermal limit. In this narrow band, we perform coherent measurements at multiple frequencies by exploiting the stability of a single reference oscillation. The power of the multifrequency approach is nicely demonstrated in a general method for measuring and compensating background forces, i.e. long-range linear forces that act on the body of the AFM probe. This compensation is necessary to reveal the the true force between the surface and the AFM tip. We show the effect of the compensation on soft polymer materials, where the background forces are typically strongest.