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ACS Nano. 2014 Feb 25;8(2):1739-44. doi: 10.1021/nn4061034. Epub 2014 Jan 13.

Measuring the three-dimensional structure of ultrathin insulating films at the atomic scale.

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IBM Almaden Research Center , 650 Harry Road, San Jose, California 95120, United States.


The increasing technological importance of thin insulating layers calls for a thorough understanding of their structure. Here we apply scanning probe methods to investigate the structure of ultrathin magnesium oxide (MgO) which is the insulating material of choice in spintronic applications. A combination of force and current measurements gives high spatial resolution maps of the local three-dimensional insulator structure. When force measurements are not available, a lower spatial resolution can be obtained from tunneling images at different voltages. These broadly applicable techniques reveal a previously unknown complexity in the structure of MgO on Ag(001), such as steps in the insulator-metal interface.


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