Resistive thermal probes used in scanning thermal microscopy provide high spatial resolution of measurement accompanied with high sensitivity to temperature changes. At the same time their sensitivity to variations of thermal conductivity of a sample is relatively low. In typical dc operation mode the static resistance of the thermal probe is measured. It is shown both analytically and experimentally that the sensitivity of measurement can be improved by a factor of three by measuring the dynamic resistance of a dc biased probe superimposed with small ac current. The dynamic resistance can be treated as a complex value. Its amplitude represents the slope of the static voltage-current U-I characteristic for a given I while its phase describes the delay between the measured ac voltage and applied ac current component in the probe. The phase signal also reveals dependence on the sample thermal conductivity. Signal changes are relatively small but very repeatable. In contrast, the difference between dynamic and static resistance has higher sensitivity (the same maximum value as that of the 2nd and 3rd harmonics), and also much higher amplitude than higher harmonics. The proposed dc + ac excitation scheme combines the benefits of dc excitation (mechanical stability of probe-sample contact, average temperature control) with those of ac excitation (base-line stability, rejection of ambient temperature influence, high sensitivity, lock-in signal processing), when the experimental conditions prohibit large ac excitation.
Bodzenta, J., Juszczyk, J., & Chirtoc, M. (2013). Quantitative scanning thermal microscopy based on determination of thermal probe dynamic resistance. Review of Scientific Instruments, 84(9), 093702.