Electrical scanning probe microscopy: Investigating the inner workings of electronic and optoelectronic devices

S. B. Kuntze*, D. Ban, E. H. Sargent, St J. Dixon-Warren, J. K. White, K. Hinzer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Semiconductor electronic and optoelectronic devices such as transistors, lasers, modulators, and detectors are critical to the contemporary computing and communications infrastructure. These devices have been optimized for efficiency in power consumption and speed of response. There are gaps in the detailed understanding of the internal operation of these devices. Experimental electrical and optical methods have allowed comprehensive elaboration of input-output characteristics, but do not give spatially resolved information about currents, carriers, and potentials on the nanometer scale relevant to quantum heterostructure device operation. In response, electrical scanning probe techniques have been developed and deployed to observe experimentally, with nanometric spatial resolution, two-dimensional profiles of the electrical resistance, capacitance, potential, and free carrier distribution, within actively driven devices. Experimental configurations for the most prevalent electrical probing techniques based on atomic force microscopy are illustrated with considerations for practical implementation. Interpretation of the measured quantities are presented and calibrated, demonstrating that internal quantities of device operation can be uncovered. Several application areas are examined: spreading resistance and capacitance characterization of free carriers in III-V device structures; acquisition of electric potential and field distributions of semiconductor lasers, nanocrystals, and thin films; scanning voltage analysis on diode lasers - the direct observation of the internal manifestations of current blocking breakdown in a buried heterostructure laser, the effect of current spreading inside actively biased ridge waveguide lasers, anomalously high series resistance encountered in ridge lasers - as well as in CMOS transistors; and free-carrier measurement of working lasers with scanning differential spreading techniques. Applications to emerging fields of nanotechnology and nanoelectronics are suggested. copyright

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)71-124
Number of pages54
JournalCritical Reviews in Solid State and Materials Sciences
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2005


  • Atomic force microscopy
  • Electrical scanning probe microscopy
  • Electrostatic force microscopy
  • Nanopotentiometry
  • Scanning capacitance microscopy
  • Scanning spreading resistance microscopy
  • Scanning voltage microscopy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Electronic, Optical and Magnetic Materials
  • Chemical Engineering(all)
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


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