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Chemical Phenomena of Atomic Force Microscopy Scanning.


Atomic force microscopy is widely used for nanoscale characterization of materials by scientists worldwide. The long-held belief of ambient AFM is that the tip is generally chemically inert but can be functionalized with respect to the studied sample. This implies that basic imaging and scanning procedures do not affect surface and bulk chemistry of the studied sample. However, an in-depth study of the confined chemical processes taking place at the tip-surface junction and the associated chemical changes to the material surface have been missing as of now. Here, we used a hybrid system that combines time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry with an atomic force microscopy to investigate the chemical interactions that take place at the tip-surface junction. Investigations showed that even basic contact mode AFM scanning is able to modify the surface of the studied sample. In particular, we found that the silicone oils deposited from the AFM tip into the scanned regions and spread to distances exceeding 15 μm from the tip. These oils were determined to come from standard gel boxes used for the storage of the tips. The explored phenomena are important for interpreting and understanding results of AFM mechanical and electrical studies relying on the state of the tip-surface junction.

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