Friction measurements on phase-separated thin films with a modified atomic force microscope

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The study of chemical phase separation in multicomponent thin organic films typically involves the addition of a dye which is selectively more soluble in one of the phases, thereby making it possible to probe the domain structures by fluorescence microscopy1-4. The resolution of this approach is generally limited to tens of micrometres. The atomic force microscope, on the other hand, has recently proved useful for imaging organic thin films down to the atomic scale5-9, but this technique provides details of the overall film topography, rather than the chemical composition. Here we show that the recently developed friction force microscope10-13, which simultaneously measures both the normal and lateral forces on the scanning tip, can be used to image and identify compositional domains with a resolution of ∼5 Å. Although the topography of the individual domains can be imaged with a standard atomic force microscope, it is the additional information provided by the friction measurement that allows them to be chemically differentiated. © 1992 Nature Publishing Group.