Scanning probe microscopy induced surface modifications of the topological insulator Bi 2 Te 3 in different environments

Nanotechnology. 2017 Aug 18;28(33):335706. doi: 10.1088/1361-6528/aa7c28. Epub 2017 Jun 28.


We investigated the topological insulator (TI) Bi2Te3 in four different environments (ambient, ultra-high vacuum (UHV), nitrogen gas and organic solvent environment) using scanning probe microscopy (SPM) techniques. Upon prolonged exposure to ambient conditions and organic solvent environments the cleaved surface of the pristine Bi2Te3 is observed to be strongly modified during SPM measurements, while imaging of freshly cleaved Bi2Te3 in UHV and nitrogen gas shows considerably less changes of the Bi2Te3 surface. We conclude that the reduced surface stability upon exposure to ambient conditions is triggered by adsorption of molecular species from ambient, including H2O, CO2, etc which is verified by Auger electron spectroscopy. Our findings of the drastic impact of exposure to ambient on the Bi2Te3 surface are crucial for further in-depth studies of the intrinsic properties of the TI Bi2Te3 and for potential applications that include room temperature TI based devices operated under ambient conditions.