The functionality of a variety of materials and devices is strongly coupled with electromechanical effects which can be used to characterize their functionality. Of high interest is the investigation of these electromechanical effects on the nanoscale which can be achieved by using scanning probe microscopy. Here, an electrical bias is applied locally to the scanning probe tip, and the mechanical sample response is detected. In some applications with electromechanical phenomena, such as energy storage or for biological samples, a liquid environment is required to provide full functionality and sample stability. However, electromechanical sample characterization has mostly been applied in air or under vacuum due to the difficulties of applying local electric fields in a conductive environment. Here, we present a detailed study of piezoresponse force microscopy of ferroelectric samples in liquid environments as a model system for electromechanical effects in general. The ionic strength of the liquid is varied, and possibilities and limitations of the technique are explored. Numerical simulations are used to explain the observed phenomena and used to suggest strategies to work in liquid environments with high ionic strength.
- piezoresponse force microscopy
- scanning probe microscopy