Quantitative measurement of contact area and electron transport across platinum nanocontacts for scanning probe microscopy and electrical nanodevices.

Author(s) Vishnubhotla, S.Bharadwaj; Chen, R.; Khanal, S.R.; Li, J.; Stach, E.A.; Martini, A.; Jacobs, T.D.B.
Journal Nanotechnology
Date Published 2019 Nov 27
Abstract

Conductive modes of atomic force microscopy are widely used to characterize the electronic properties of materials, and in such measurements, contact size is typically determined from current flow. Conversely, in nanodevice applications, the current flow is predicted from the estimated contact size. In both cases, it is very common to relate the contact size and current flow using well-established ballistic electron transport theory. Here we performed 19 electromechanical tests of platinum nanocontacts with in situ transmission electron microscopy to measure contact size and conductance. We also used molecular dynamics simulations of matched nanocontacts to investigate the nature of contact on the atomic scale. Together, these tests show that the ballistic transport equations under-predict the contact size by more than an order of magnitude. The measurements suggest that the low conductance of the contact cannot be explained by the scattering of electrons at defects nor by patchy contact due to surface roughness; instead, the lower-than-expected contact conductance is attributed to approximately a monolayer of insulating surface species on the platinum. Surprisingly, the low conductance persists throughout loading and even after significant sliding of the contact in vacuum. We apply tunneling theory and extract best-fit barrier parameters that describe the properties of this surface layer. The implications of this investigation are that electron transport in device-relevant platinum nanocontacts can be significantly limited by the presence and persistence of surface species, resulting in current flow that is better described by tunneling theory than ballistic electron transport, even for cleaned pure-platinum surfaces and even after loading and sliding in vacuum.

DOI 10.1088/1361-6528/aaebd6
ISSN 1361-6528
Citation Vishnubhotla SB, Chen R, Khanal SR, Li J, Stach EA, Martini A, et al. Quantitative measurement of contact area and electron transport across platinum nanocontacts for scanning probe microscopy and electrical nanodevices. Nanotechnology. 2019;30(4):045705.