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AFM Tools for Nanoscale Electrical Characterization

Surface potential image of a carbon-filled polymer blend imaged with atomic force microscopy

The inherent spatial resolution and direct probing capability of atomic force microscopy make it a powerful tool for nanoscale electrical characterization. Asylum Research offers a full suite of tools for characterizing electrical properties at the nanoscale on the MFP-3D™ and Cypher™ families of atomic force microscopes. While quantitative electrical measurement in itself is the goal, electrical modes are also often used to quickly detect, distinguish, and identify components based on qualitative differences in electric properties relative to other materials in the sample.

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Kelvin Probe Force Microscopy (KPFM)

  • Accurately measures surface potential based on differences in work function, presence of trapped charges, or voltage offsets

Electrostatic Force Microscopy (EFM)

  • Maps force gradients generated by electrostatic charges

Nanoscale Time Dependent Dielectric Breakdown (nanoTDDB)

  • Detects breakdown voltage of dielectric thin films

Conductive AFM (CAFM)

  • Measures current through the tip as a function of an applied sample bias

Current Mapping with Fast Force Mapping

  • Measures current at an applied sample bias during the contact segment of a fast force curve

Scanning Microwave Impedance Microscopy (sMIM)

  • Maps variations in local capacitance and resistance, as well as dC/dV and dR/dV


  • Detect conductive inclusions in polymer blends
  • Monitor the uniformity of thin film coverage and thickness
  • Probe metallic nanostructures based on their work function
  • Characterize potential profiles of semiconductor junctions and heterostructures


  • Identify regions of a sample containing trapped charge
  • Detect carbon nanotubes buried in insulating matrix


  • Characterize the switching performance of access devices in non-volatile memory


  • Characterize a wide range of linear and non-linear materials, including conductors, semiconductors, and insulators
  • Provide contrast based on material permittivity and conductivity
  • Map dopant concentrations and dopant types, with applications in failure analysis of microelectronic devices
  • Qualify carbon nanotubes exhibiting metallic vs. semimetallic behavior
  • Visualize buried structures based on capactance variations measured at the surface

"Local characterization of mobile charge carriers by two electrical AFM modes: multi-harmonic EFM versus sMIM," L. Lei, R. Xu, S. Ye, X. Wang, K. Xu, S. Hussain, Y. J. Li, Y. Sugawara, L. Xie, W. Ji, and Z. Cheng, J. Phys. Commun. 2, 025013 (2018).

"Probing the ionic and electrochemical phenomena during resistive switching of NiO thin films," W. Lu, J. Xiao, L.-M. Wong, S. Wang, and K. Zeng, ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces 10, 8092 (2018).

"Optimization of the Ag/PCBM interface by a rhodamine interlayer to enhance the efficiency and stability of perovskite solar cells," J. Ciro, S. Mesa, J. I. Uribe, M. A. Mejía-Escobar, D. Ramirez, J. F. Montoya, R. Betancur, H.-S. Yoo, N.-G. Park, and F. Jaramillo, Nanoscale 9, 9440 (2017).

"Spatially resolved multicolor CsPbX3 nanowire heterojunctions via anion exchange," L. Dou, M. Lai, C. S. Kley, Y. Yang, C. G. Bischak, D. Zhang, S. W. Eaton, N. S. Ginsberg, and P. Yang, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 114, 7216 (2017).

"New insights on electro-optical response of poly(3,4-ethylenedioxythiophene):poly(styrenesulfonate) film to humidity," E. S. Muckley, C. B. Jacobs, K. Vidal, J. P. Mahalik, R. Kumar, B. G. Sumpter, and I. N. Ivanov, ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces 9, 15880 (2017).

"Mapping the photoresponse of CH3NH3PbI3 hybrid perovskite thin films at the nanoscale," Y. Kutes, Y. Zhou, J. L. Bosse, J. Steffes, N. P. Padture, and B. D. Huey, Nano Lett. 16, 3434 (2016).

"Grain boundary dominated ion migration in polycrystalline organic–inorganic halide perovskite films," Y. Shao, Y. Fang, T. Li, Q. Wang, Q. Dong, Y. Deng, Y. Yuan, H. Wei, M. Wang, A. Gruverman, J. Shield, and J. Huang, Energy Environ. Sci. 9, 1752 (2016).

"High‐performance and environmentally stable planar heterojunction perovskite solar cells based on a solution‐processed copper‐doped nickel oxide hole‐transporting layer," J. H. Kim, P.‐W. Liang, S. T. Williams, N. Cho, C.-C. Chueh, M. S. Glaz, D. S. Ginger, and A. K.‐Y. Jen, Adv. Mater. 27, 695 (2015).

"Gate-tunable memristive phenomena mediated by grain boundaries in single-layer MoS2," V. K. Sangwan, D. Jariwala, I. S. Kim, K. S. Chen, T. J. Marks, L. J. Lauhon, and M. C. Hersam, Nat. Nanotechnol. 10, 403 (2015).

"Polymer homo‐tandem solar cells with best efficiency of 11.3%," H. Zhou, Y. Zhang, C. K. Mai, S. D. Collins, G. C. Bazan, T. Q. Nguyen, and A. J. Heeger, Adv. Mater. 27, 1767 (2015).

"Observation and alteration of surface states of hematite photoelectrodes," C. Du, M. Zhang, J.-W. Jang, Y. Liu, G.-Y. Liu, and D. Wang, J. Phys. Chem. C 118, 17054 (2014).

"Solvent‐polarity‐induced active layer morphology control in crystalline diketopyrrolopyrrole‐based low band gap polymer photovoltaics," S. Ferdous, F. Liu, D. Wang, and T.P. Russell, Adv. Energy Mater. 4, 1300834 (2014).

"Quantifying charge carrier concentration in ZnO thin films by scanning Kelvin probe microscopy," C. Maragliano, S. Lilliu, M. S. Dahlem, M. Chiesa, T. Souier, and M. Stefancich, Sci. Rep. 4, 4203 (2014).

"A new quantitative experimental approach to investigate single cell adhesion on multifunctional substrates," C. Canale, A. Petrelli, M. Salerno, A. Diaspro, and S. Dante, Biosens. Bioelectron. 48, 172 (2013).

"Kelvin probe microscopy and electronic transport measurements in reduced graphene oxide chemical sensors," C. E. Kehayias, S. MacNaughton, S. Sonkusale, and C. Staii, Nanotechnology 24, 245502 (2013).

"High spatial resolution Kelvin probe force microscopy with coaxial probes," K. A. Brown, K. J. Satzinger, and R. M. Westervelt, Nanotechnology 23, 115703 (2012).

"Sub-30 nm scaling and high-speed operation of fully-confined access-devices for 3D crosspoint memory based on mixed-ionic-electronic-conduction (MIEC) materials," K. Virwani, G.W. Burr, R.S. Shenoy, C.T. Rettner, A. Padilla, T. Topuria, P.M. Rice, G. Ho, R.S. King, K. Nguyen, A.N. Bowers, M. Jurich, M. BrightSky, E.A. Joseph, A.J. Kellock, N. Arellano, B.N. Kurdi, and K. Gopalakrishnan Kumar, in IEEE International Electron Devices Meeting 2012 Technical Digest (10-13 December 2012, San Francisco, CA), pp. 2.7.1-2.7.4.

"Photoinduced degradation studies of organic solar cell materials using Kelvin probe force and conductive scanning force microscopy," E. Sengupta, A. L. Domanski, S. A. Weber, M. B. Untch, H. J. Butt, T. Sauermann, H. J. Egelhaaf, and R. Berger, J. Phys. Chem. C 115, 19994 (2011).

"Kelvin force microscopy studies of work function of transparent conducting ZnO:Al electrodes synthesized under varying oxygen pressures," R. Jaramillo and S. Ramanathan, Sol. Energy Mater. Sol. Cells 95, 602 (2011).

"Nanoscale, electrified liquid jets for high-resolution printing of charge," J.-U. Park, S. Lee, S. Unarunotai, Y. Sun, S. Dunham, T. Song, P. M. Ferreira, A. G. Alleyene, U. Paik, and J. A. Rogers, Nano Lett. 10, 584 (2010).

"Highly efficient solar cell polymers developed via fine-tuning of structural and electronic properties," Y. Liang, D. Feng, Y. Wu, S.-T. Tsai, G. Li, C. Ray, and L. Yu, J. Am. Chem. Soc. 131, 7792 (2009).

"Differential conductivity in self-assembled nanodomains of a diblock copolymer using polystyrene-block-poly(ferrocenylethylmethylsilane)," J. K. Li, S. Zou, D. A. Rider, I. Manners, and G. C. Walker, Adv. Mater. 20, 1989 (2008).

"Space charge limited current measurements on conjugated polymer films using conductive atomic force microscopy," O. G. Reid, K. Munechika, and D. S. Ginger, Nano Lett. 8, 1602 (2008).

"Near-static dielectric polarization of individual carbon nanotubes," W. Lu, D. Wang, and L. Chen, Nano Lett. 7, 2729 (2007). 10.1021/nl071208m

"Piezoelectric and semiconducting coupled power generating process of a single ZnO belt/wire. A technology for harvesting electricity from the environment," J. Song, J. Zhou, and Z. L. Wang, Nano Lett. 6, 1656 (2006).