Nanoscale Imaging of Phase Transitions with Scanning Force Microscopy

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Nanoscale Imaging of Phase Transitions with Scanning Force Microscopy

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Title: Nanoscale Imaging of Phase Transitions with Scanning Force Microscopy
Author: Pivonka, Adam
Citation: Pivonka, Adam. 2012. Nanoscale Imaging of Phase Transitions with Scanning Force Microscopy. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: Nanoscale imaging of materials through phase transitions can provide valuable insight into the local nature of the transition and the emergence of order. The scanning force microscope used in the studies presented here is an ideal instrument to investigate phase transitions with nanoscale spatial resolution. We study phase transitions in two different systems by operating in different modes: contact mode, in which we measure the local electronic properties of the sample; and non-contact mode, in which we probe the sample by monitoring the interaction between the sample and cantilever. We increased the versatility of this microscope by developing a method to control the quality factor Q of a conducting cantilever via capacitive coupling to the local environment. We show that Q may be reversibly tuned over a range of a factor of 260. We describe the underlying physics with a point-mass oscillator model. Tuning Q can enhance force-gradient sensitivity or scan speed, which we demonstrate with topographic scans of a \((VO_2)\) acquired in high vacuum. Scanning in contact mode with a conductive cantilever, we study local electronic properties of a vanadium dioxide \((VO_2)\) thin film through an insulator to metal transition. At each point in the scan, we sweep the voltage applied to the sample, obtaining current versus voltage sweeps with nanoscale resolution while inducing the insulator to metal transition. In some \((VO_2)\) grains, we see two electronic transitions, consistent with a locally stable intermediate insulating phase. We find large insulating state resistances and transition voltages at grain boundaries, underscoring the importance of Joule heating in triggering the transition in this type of measurement. Finally, we evaluate the conduction mechanism in the insulating regime, allowing the local determination of permittivity and temperature. We scan in non-contact mode with a magnetic tip to investigate the spin reorientation transition in single-crystal \(Nd_2Fe_{14}B\). This ferromagnetic system undergoes the spin reorientation transition near 135 K. We achieve nanoscale magnetic resolution at both room temperature and at a variety of temperatures around the phase transition. We demonstrate the ability to resolve the magnetic domain structure and monitor its evolution through the phase transition.
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