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Technique for shaping scanning tunneling microscope tips

P. J. Bryant, H. S. Kim, Y. C. Zheng, and R. Yang

Citation: Review of Scientific Instruments 58, 1115 (1987); doi: 10.1063/1.1139618

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Technique for shaping scanning tunneling microscope tips
P. J. Bryant, H. S. Kim, Y. C. Zheng, and R. Yang
Physics Department, University 0/ Missouri-Kansas City, Kansas City, l1;fissouri 64110
(Received 31 December 1986; accepted for publication 10 February 1987)

Two innovations have been applied to improve a method developed earlier for the production
of field-ion tips. The new technique produces sharper, smaller tips with low-aspect ratio shanks
to fulfill the specific needs of scanning tunneling microscopy.

Extremely sharp metal tips with low-aspect ratio shanks, to er end by direct electrochemical polishing in a 3%-5%
minimize vibrations, are needed for scanning tunneling mi- KOH solution. A 20-V ac potential is applied for initial
croscopy (STM) use. Ideally, the tip should have a sharp, shaping. (2) The tip region is then protected from etching by
strong asperity to focus tunneling current on a sample area insertion into an air column, which is trapped in the 1.3~mm
of approximately 4 A2 to produce atomically resolved im- Ld. of a glass capillary by the high surface tension of the
ages. However, the process of electropolishing removes aqueous KOH solution. (3) Etching of the shank proceeds
asperities to produce relatively smooth hemispherical tips of until the tensile strength of the notched region can no longer
0.1-1. O-,um radii. sustain the weight ofthe small lower end. The applied poten-
The technique described here produces sharp, work~ tial is reduced toward zero as the tip shank diminishes in
hardened asperities by a plastic deformation of a tungsten size. The etching current is approximately 1 rnA or less. (4)
wire and protects that ideal shape from electropolishing. The Plastic deformation and work hardening I during the tensile
method proceeds in the steps, illustrated in Fig. 1, as follows. shearing of the shank should produce the strong asperities
( 1) A tungsten wire center electrode is tapered near the low- desired.
Similar procedures leading to a drop off of the lower end
have been reported. The most similar was the use by Melmed
of an electrolyte droplet which forms a gas bubble around
the tip; for a comprehensive review see Ref. 1. There are two
important factors introduced here. First, the use of an air
column eliminates some problems, described earlier,l and
allows controlled shaping of the probe shank Second, the
small end which drops off is employed as the STM tip rather
than the upper probe, as in the earlier field ion applications.
These differences are crucial. The lower end disconnects
- _. from the voltage of the upper electrode upon breaking away,
- .-
so that etching ceases leaving the sharp, desired asperities
intact. Continued etching of the upper electrode removes the
1- ~- - sharp asperities quickly. The upper electrode can remain
r- - sharp enough for field ion use if further blunting is stopped
by an automated electronic shut-off control. However, that
precaution does not save the very sharp asperities desired for
STM. Evidence of the size of the tungsten tips has been ob-
tained from transmission electron micrographs. Tip diame-
ters are approximately 50 A. Smaller asperities are not re-
The use of the small drop-off end has been a serendipi-
tous innovation; it originally fulfilled the need for sharp
STM tips, now it is also providing the probes of small total
dimensions required for a new miniature STM design.
FIG. 1. A pretapered O.6-mm tungsten wire (W) held by a micromanipula-
tor with end protected in air column while the shank is etched in 3%-5%
acqueous KOH. after dropping off the lower end is caught by the foam to IE. W. Muller and T. T. Tsang, Field fon l'Jicroscopy (American Elsevier,
avoid damage afthe tip. New York, 1969).

11 15 Rev. Sc!.lnstrum. 58 (6), June 1987 0034-6746/811061115-01$01.30 @ 1987 American Institute of Physics 1115

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