This chapter is dedicated to scanning probe microscopy, one of the most important techniques in nanotechnology. In general, scanning probe techniques allow the measurement of physical properties down to the nanometer scale. Some techniques, such as the scanning tunneling microscope and the scanning force microscope even go down to the atomic scale. The properties that are accessible are various. Most importantly, one can image the arrangement of atoms on conducting surfaces by scanning tunneling microscopy and on insulating substrates by scanning force microscopy. But also the arrangement of electrons (scanning tunneling spectroscopy), the force interaction between different atoms (scanning force spectroscopy), magnetic domains (magnetic force microscopy), the local capacitance (scanning capacitance microscopy), the local temperature (scanning thermo microscopy), and local light-induced excitations (scanning near-field microscopy) can be measured with high spatial resolution. In addition, some techniques even allow the manipulation of atomic configurations.
Probably the most important advantage of the low-temperature operation of scanning probe techniques is that they lead to a significantly better signal-to-noise ratio than measuring at room temperature. This is why many researchers work below 100 K. However, there are also physical reasons to use low-temperature equipment. For example, the manipulation of atoms or scanning tunneling spectroscopy with high energy resolution can only be realized at low temperatures. Moreover, some physical effects such as superconductivity or the Kondo effect are restricted to low temperatures. Here, we describe the design criteria of low-temperature scanning probe equipment and summarize some of the most spectacular results achieved since the invention of the method about 20 years ago. We first focus on the scanning tunneling microscope, giving examples of atomic manipulation and the analysis of electronic properties in different material arrangements. Afterwards, we describeresults obtained by scanning force microscopy, showing atomic-scale imaging on insulators, as well as force spectroscopy analysis. Finally, the magnetic force microscope, which images domain patterns in ferromagnets and vortex patterns in superconductors, is discussed. Although this list is far from complete, we feel that it gives an adequate impression of the fascinating possibilities of low-temperature scanning probe instruments.
In this chapter low temperatures are defined as lower than about 100K and are normally achieved by cooling with liquid nitrogen or liquid helium. Applications in which SPMs are operated close to 0 °C are not covered in this chapter.