Physical Review B - CMMP

Investigating atomic contrast in atomic force microscopy and Kelvin probe force microscopy on ionic systems using functionalized tips

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Noncontact atomic force microscopy (NC-AFM) and Kelvin probe force microscopy (KPFM) have become important tools for nanotechnology; however, their contrast mechanisms on the atomic scale are not entirely understood. Here we used chlorine vacancies in NaCl bilayers on Cu(111) as a model system to investigate atomic contrast as a function of applied voltage, tip height, and tip functionalization. We demonstrate that the AFM contrast on the atomic scale decisively depends on both the tip termination and the sample voltage. On the contrary, the local contact potential difference acquired with KPFM showed the same qualitative contrast for all tip terminations investigated, which resembled the contrast of the electrostatic field of the sample. We find that the AFM contrast stems mainly from electrostatic interactions but its tip dependence cannot be explained by the tip dipole alone. With the aid of a simple electrostatic model and by density functional theory, we investigate the underlying contrast mechanisms.