Scanning thermal microscopy with heat conductive nanowire probes

Scanning thermal microscopy (SThM), which enables measurement of thermal transport and temperature distribution in devices and materials with nanoscale resolution is rapidly becoming a key approach in resolving heat dissipation problems in modern processors and assisting development of new thermoelectric materials. In SThM, the self-heating thermal sensor contacts the sample allowing studying of the temperature distribution and heat transport in nanoscaled materials and devices. The main factors that limit the resolution and sensitivities of SThM measurements are the low efficiency of thermal coupling and the lateral dimensions of the probed area of the surface studied. The thermal conductivity of the sample plays a key role in the sensitivity of SThM measurements. During the SThM measurements of the areas with higher thermal conductivity the heat flux via SThM probe is increased compared to the areas with lower thermal conductivity. For optimal SThM measurements of interfaces between low and high thermal conductivity materials, well defined nanoscale probes with high thermal conductivity at the probe apex are required to achieve a higher quality of the probe-sample thermal contact while preserving the lateral resolution of the system.

In this paper, we consider a SThM approach that can help address these complex problems by using high thermal conductivity nanowires (NW) attached to a tip apex.

We propose analytical models of such NW-SThM probes and analyse the influence of the contact resistance between the SThM probe and the sample studied. The latter becomes particularly important when both tip and sample surface have high thermal conductivities. These models were complemented by finite element analysis simulations and experimental tests using prototype probe where a multiwall carbon nanotube (MWCNT) is exploited as an excellent example of a high thermal conductivity NW. These results elucidate critical relationships between the performance of the SThM probe on one hand and thermal conductivity, geometry of the probe and its components on the other. As such, they provide a pathway for optimizing current SThM for nanothermal studies of high thermal conductivity materials. Comparison between experimental and modeling results allows us to provide direct estimates of the contact thermal resistances for various interfaces such as MWCNT-Al (5×10−9±1×10−9 K m2 W−1), Si3N4–Al (6×10−8±2.5×10−8 K m2 W−1) and Si3N4−graphene (~10−8 K m2 W−1). It was also demonstrated that the contact between the MWCNT probe and Al is relatively perfect, with a minimal contact resistance. In contrast, the thermal resistance between a standard Si3N4 SThM probe and Al is an order of magnitude higher than reported in the literature, suggesting that the contact between these materials may have a multi-asperity nature that can significantly degrade the contact resistance.

Timofeeva, M., Bolshakov, A., Tovee, P. D., Zeze, D. A., Dubrovskii, V. G., & Kolosov, O. V. (2016). Scanning thermal microscopy with heat conductive nanowire probes. Ultramicroscopy, 162, 42-51.

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