On the Limits of Scanning Thermal Microscopy of Ultrathin Films

Materials (Basel). 2020 Jan 22;13(3):518. doi: 10.3390/ma13030518.


Heat transfer processes in micro- and nanoscale devices have become more and more important during the last decades. Scanning thermal microscopy (SThM) is an atomic force microscopy (AFM) based method for analyzing local thermal conductivities of layers with thicknesses in the range of several nm to µm. In this work, we investigate ultrathin films of hexagonal boron nitride (h-BN), copper iodide in zincblende structure (γ-CuI) and some test sample structures fabricated of silicon (Si) and silicon dioxide (SiO2) using SThM. Specifically, we analyze and discuss the influence of the sample topography, the touching angle between probe tip and sample, and the probe tip temperature on the acquired results. In essence, our findings indicate that SThM measurements include artefacts that are not associated with the thermal properties of the film under investigation. We discuss possible ways of influence, as well as the magnitudes involved. Furthermore, we suggest necessary measuring conditions that make qualitative SThM measurements of ultrathin films of h-BN with thicknesses at or below 23 nm possible.

Keywords: AFM; Atomic force microscopy; CuI; SThM; boron nitride; copper iodide; h-BN; scanning thermal microscopy; topography influences; ultrathin films.