Advanced AFM Laboratory

Platform Leader: Neus Domingo



  • Depth mapping of metallic nanowire polymer nanocomposites by scanning dielectric microscopy

    Balakrishnan H., Millan-Solsona R., Checa M., Fabregas R., Fumagalli L., Gomila G. Nanoscale; 13 (22): 10116 - 10126. 2021. 10.1039/d1nr01058a. IF: 7.790

    Polymer nanocomposite materials based on metallic nanowires are widely investigated as transparent and flexible electrodes or as stretchable conductors and dielectrics for biosensing. Here we show that Scanning Dielectric Microscopy (SDM) can map the depth distribution of metallic nanowires within the nanocomposites in a non-destructive way. This is achieved by a quantitative analysis of sub-surface electrostatic force microscopy measurements with finite-element numerical calculations. As an application we determined the three-dimensional spatial distribution of ∼50 nm diameter silver nanowires in ∼100 nm-250 nm thick gelatin films. The characterization is done both under dry ambient conditions, where gelatin shows a relatively low dielectric constant, ϵr ∼ 5, and under humid ambient conditions, where its dielectric constant increases up to ϵr ∼ 14. The present results show that SDM can be a valuable non-destructive subsurface characterization technique for nanowire-based nanocomposite materials, which can contribute to the optimization of these materials for applications in fields such as wearable electronics, solar cell technologies or printable electronics. © The Royal Society of Chemistry.

  • Effect of Humidity on the Writing Speed and Domain Wall Dynamics of Ferroelectric Domains

    Spasojevic I., Verdaguer A., Catalan G., Domingo N. Advanced Electronic Materials; 2021. 10.1002/aelm.202100650. IF: 7.295

    The switching dynamics of ferroelectric polarization under electric fields depends on the availability of screening charges in order to stabilize the switched polarization. In ferroelectrics, thin films with exposed surfaces investigated by piezoresponse force microscopy (PFM), the main source of external screening charges is the atmosphere and the water neck, and therefore relative humidity (RH) plays a major role. Here, it is shown how the dynamic writing of domains in BaTiO3 thin films changes by varying scanning speeds in the range of RH between 2.5% and 60%. The measurements reveal that the critical speed for domain writing, which is defined as the highest speed at which electrical writing of a continuous stripe domain is possible, increases non-monotonically with RH. Additionally, the width of line domains shows a power law dependence on the writing speed, with a growth rate coefficient decreasing with RH. The size of the written domains at a constant speed as well as the creep-factor μ describing the domain wall kinetics follow the behavior of water adsorption represented by the adsorption isotherm, indicating that the screening mechanism dominating the switching dynamics is the thickness and the structure of adsorbed water structure and its associated dielectric constant and ionic mobility. © 2021 The Authors. Advanced Electronic Materials published by Wiley-VCH GmbH

  • Fast Label-Free Nanoscale Composition Mapping of Eukaryotic Cells Via Scanning Dielectric Force Volume Microscopy and Machine Learning

    Checa M., Millan-Solsona R., Mares A.G., Pujals S., Gomila G. Small Methods; 5 (7, 2100279) 2021. 10.1002/smtd.202100279. IF: 14.188

    Mapping the biochemical composition of eukaryotic cells without the use of exogenous labels is a long-sought objective in cell biology. Recently, it has been shown that composition maps on dry single bacterial cells with nanoscale spatial resolution can be inferred from quantitative nanoscale dielectric constant maps obtained with the scanning dielectric microscope. Here, it is shown that this approach can also be applied to the much more challenging case of fixed and dry eukaryotic cells, which are highly heterogeneous and show micrometric topographic variations. More importantly, it is demonstrated that the main bottleneck of the technique (the long computation times required to extract the nanoscale dielectric constant maps) can be shortcut by using supervised neural networks, decreasing them from weeks to seconds in a wokstation computer. This easy-to-use data-driven approach opens the door for in situ and on-the-fly label free nanoscale composition mapping of eukaryotic cells with scanning dielectric microscopy. © 2021 The Authors. Small Methods published by Wiley-VCH GmbH

  • Mechanical reading of ferroelectric polarization

    Stefani C., Langenberg E., Cordero-Edwards K., Schlom D.G., Catalan G., Domingo N. Journal of Applied Physics; 130 (7, 0059930) 2021. 10.1063/5.0059930. IF: 2.546

    Flexoelectricity is a property of dielectric materials whereby they exhibit electric polarization induced by strain gradients; while this effect can be negligible at the macroscale, it can become dominant at the nanoscale, where strain gradients can turn out to be tremendous. Previous works have demonstrated that flexoelectricity coupled with piezoelectricity enables the mechanical writing of ferroelectric polarization. When considering ferroelectric materials with out-of-plane polarization, the coupling of piezoelectricity with flexoelectricity can insert a mechanical asymmetry to the system and enable the distinction of oppositely polarized domains, based on their nanomechanical response. Using atomic force microscopy and, more specifically, contact resonance techniques, the coupling of flexoelectricity to piezoelectricity can be exploited to mechanically read the sign of ferroelectric polarization in a non-destructive way. We have measured a variety of ferroelectric materials, from a single crystal to thin films, and domains that are polarized down always appear to be stiffer than oppositely polarized domains. In this article, we demonstrate experimentally that the phenomenon is size-dependent and strongly enhanced when the dimension of the material is reduced to nanoscale in thin films. Ultimately, we demonstrate how the sensitivity in mechanical reading of ferroelectric polarization can be improved by appropriately tuning the mechanical stiffness of the cantilevers. © 2021 Author(s).

  • Oxidation processes at the surface of BaTiO3 thin films under environmental conditions

    Spasojevic I., Sauthier G., Caicedo J.M., Verdaguer A., Domingo N. Applied Surface Science; 565 (150288) 2021. 10.1016/j.apsusc.2021.150288. IF: 6.707

    Dissociation and adsorption of water on ferroelectric oxide surfaces play important role in the processes of screening and switching dynamics of ferroelectric polarization, as well as in catalytic processes which can be additionally coupled with light, temperature or vibration stimuli. In this work, we present XPS study of ferroelectric BaTiO3thin films and determine the entanglement between surface chemistry, polarization direction and stability, by observing changes upon time exposure to environmental conditions, heating in O2atmosphere and irradiation in vacuum. We devote special attention to Ba 3d spectral region and identify two different oxidation states of O atoms in the compounds of Ba. While this second specie was generally attributed to Ba in surface compounds where it has different oxygen coordination than in the bulk, based on the XPS results of oxygen annealed thin films, we demonstrate that this so far neglected component, corresponds to barium peroxide (BaO2) and identify it as important active specie for the study of screening mechanisms closely related with catalytic activity present in this ferroelectric material. Finally, we report on chemically assisted polarization switching in thin films induced by heating in vacuum or exposure to X-Ray radiation due to the formation of positive surface electric field created by oxygen or electron vacancies, respectively. © 2021 The Authors


  • Mechanical Softness of Ferroelectric 180° Domain Walls MECHANICAL SOFTNESS of FERROELECTRIC 180 DEGREE ... STEFANI CHRISTINA et al.

    Stefani C., Ponet L., Shapovalov K., Chen P., Langenberg E., Schlom D.G., Artyukhin S., Stengel M., Domingo N., Catalan G. Physical Review X; 10 (4, 041001) 2020. 10.1103/PhysRevX.10.041001. IF: 12.577

    Using scanning probe microscopy, we measure the out-of-plane mechanical response of ferroelectric 180° domain walls and observe that, despite separating domains that are mechanically identical, the walls appear mechanically distinct-softer-compared to the domains. This effect is observed in different ferroelectric materials (LiNbO3, BaTiO3, and PbTiO3) and with different morphologies (from single crystals to thin films), suggesting that the effect is universal. We propose a theoretical framework that explains the domain wall softening and justifies that the effect should be common to all ferroelectrics. The lesson is, therefore, that domain walls are not only functionally different from the domains they separate, but also mechanically distinct. © 2020 authors. Published by the American Physical Society. Published by the American Physical Society under the terms of the ""Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license. Further distribution of this work must maintain attribution to the author(s) and the published article's title, journal citation, and DOI.


  • Signal enhancement on gold nanoparticle-based lateral flow tests using cellulose nanofibers

    Quesada-González D., Stefani C., González I., de la Escosura-Muñiz A., Domingo N., Mutjé P., Merkoçi A. Biosensors and Bioelectronics; 141 (111407) 2019. 10.1016/j.bios.2019.111407. IF: 9.518

    Lateral flow paper-based biosensors merge as powerful tools in point-of-care diagnostics since they are cheap, portable, robust, selective, fast and easy to use. However, the sensitivity of this type of biosensors is not always as high as required, often not permitting a clear quantification. To improve the colorimetric response of standard lateral flow strips (LFs), we have applied a new enhancement strategy that increases the sensitivity of LFs based on the use of cellulose nanofibers (CNF). CNF penetrate inside the pores of LFs nitrocellulose paper, compacting the pore size only in the test line, particularly near the surface of the strip. This modification retains the bioreceptors (antibodies) close to the surface of the strips, and thus further increasing the density of selectively attached gold nanoparticles (AuNPs) in the top part of the membrane, in the test line area, only when the sample is positive. This effect boosts in average a 36.6% the sensitivity of the LFs. The optical measurements of the LFs were carried out with a mobile phone camera whose imaging resolution was improved by attaching microscopic lens on the camera objective. The characterization of CNF into paper and their effect was analyzed using atomic force microscope (AFM) and scanning electron microscope (SEM) imaging techniques. © 2019 Elsevier B.V.