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Nanoscale quantitative measurement of the potential of charged nanostructures by Electrostatic and Kelvin Probe Force Microscopy: unravelling electronic processes in complex materials

Andrea Liscio, Vincenzo Palermo, Paolo Samorì, Washington (2010)

In microelectronics and biology, many fundamental processes involve the exchange of charges between small objects, such as nanocrystals in photovoltaic blends or individual proteins in photosynthetic reactions. Because these nanoscale electronic processes strongly depend on the structure of the electroactive assemblies, a detailed understanding of these phenomena requires unraveling the relationship between the structure of the nano-object and its electronic function. Because of the fragility of the structures involved and the dynamic variance of the electric potential of each nanostructure during the charge generation and transport processes, understanding this structure−function relationship represents a great challenge. This Account discusses how our group and others have exploited scanning probe microscopy based approaches beyond imaging, particularly Kelvin probe force microscopy (KPFM), to map the potential of different nanostructures with a spatial and voltage resolution of a few nanometers and millivolts, respectively. We describe in detail how these techniques can provide researchers several types of chemical information. First, KPFM allows researchers to visualize the photogeneration and splitting of several unitary charges between well-defined nano-objects having complementary electron-acceptor and -donor properties. In addition, this method maps charge injection and transport in thin layers of polycrystalline materials. Finally, KPFM can monitor the activity of immobilized chemical components of natural photosynthetic systems. In particular, researchers can use KPFM to measure the electric potential without physical contact between the tip and the nanostructure studied. These measurements exploit long-range electrostatic interactions between the scanning probe and the sample, which scale with the square of the probe−sample distance, d. While allowing minimal perturbation, these long-range interactions limit the resolution attainable in the measurement of potentials. Although the spatial resolution of KPFM is on the nanometer scale, it is inferior to that of other related techniques such as atomic force or scanning tunneling microscopy, which are based on short-range interactions scaling as d−7 or e−d, respectively. To overcome this problem, we have recently devised deconvolution procedures that allow us to quantify the electric potential of a nano-object removing the artifacts due to its nanometric size.

Partners : UdS

Place of Publication : Washington

Date of Publication : 2010/01/08

Additional Data : Acc. Chem. Res., Volume: 43 Issue: 4

Link to the online version of the article.