Nano-composites are a class of materials that has gained much interest recently. The potential of producing materials with tailored physical and electronic properties at low cost are attractive for applications ranging from drug delivery to corrosion prevention. To fully understand the link between structure and performance, techniques are required that provide information on material properties at the nanometer scale. Scanning probe microscopy (SPM) with its various modes such as phase imaging, force modulation and pulsed force microscopy has emerged as an invaluable addition to other analytical techniques such as TEM, SEM, SIMS, Auger, and micro-indentation. SPMís general applicability makes it uniquely suited as a general characterization method at the nanoscopic scale.
In this presentation we show SPM data from a series of nano-composite materials ranging from biology (shells) to the electronics industry (silver epoxy). We give a detailed comparison of different mode images obtained on embedded nano-crystallites samples and discuss advantages/disadvantages of mode choices for various sample types.
The information obtained with the various modes of SPM is not easy to interpret and it has been shown that these mode images are often closely related to the topography, its derivative and/or error signal. To conclude this overview we therefore present simple methods to recognize these potential pitfalls, both during data acquisition and image processing.