Preventing probe induced topography correlated artifacts in Kelvin Probe Force Microscopy

L. Polak*, Rinke J. Wijngaarden

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Kelvin Probe Force Microscopy (KPFM) on samples with rough surface topography can be hindered by topography correlated artifacts. We show that, with the proper experimental configuration and using homogeneously metal coated probes, we are able to obtain amplitude modulation (AM) KPFM results on a gold coated sample with rough topography that are free from such artifacts. By inducing tip inhomogeneity through contact with the sample, clear potential variations appear in the KPFM image, which correlate with the surface topography and, thus, are probe induced artifacts. We find that switching to frequency modulation (FM) KPFM with such altered probes does not remove these artifacts. We also find that the induced tip inhomogeneity causes a lift height dependence of the KPFM measurement, which can therefore be used as a check for the presence of probe induced topography correlated artifacts. We attribute the observed effects to a work function difference between the tip and the rest of the probe and describe a model for such inhomogeneous probes that predicts lift height dependence and topography correlated artifacts for both AM and FM-KPFM methods. This work demonstrates that using a probe with a homogeneous work function and preventing tip changes is essential for KPFM on non-flat samples. From the three investigated probe coatings, PtIr, Au and TiN, the latter appears to be the most suitable, because of its better resistance against coating damage.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)158-165
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2016


  • Distance dependence
  • Kelvin Probe Force Microscopy
  • Probe change
  • Topography correlated artifact


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