Advances in Scanning Thermal Microscopy Measurements for Thin Films

One of the main challenges nowadays concerning nanostructured materials is the understanding
of the heat transfer mechanisms, which are of the utmost relevance for many
specific applications. There are different methods to characterize thermal conductivity at
the nanoscale and in films, but in most cases, metrology, good resolution, fast time
acquisition, and sample preparation are the issues. In this chapter, we will discuss one of
the most fascinating techniques used for thermal characterization, the scanning thermal
microscopy (SThM), which can provide simultaneously topographic and thermal information
of the samples under study with nanometer resolution and with virtually no
sample preparation needed. This method is based on using a nanothermometer, which
can also be used as heater element, integrated into an atomic force microscope (AFM)
cantilever. The chapter will start with a historical introduction of the technique, followed
by the different kinds of probes and operation modes that can be used. Then, some of the
equations and heating models used to extract the thermal conductivity from these measurements
will be briefly discussed. Finally, different examples of actual measurements
performed on films will be shown. Most of these results deal with thermoelectric thin
films, where the thermal conductivity characterization is one of the most important
parameters to optimize their performance for real applications.
Keywords: scanning thermal microscopy, thermal probes, thermoelectric thin films,
thermal conductivity, local temperature measurements

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