National Physical Laboratory

Seeing an atomic thickness

Scientists from NPL, in collaboration with Linköping University, Sweden, have shown that regions of graphene of different thickness can be easily identified in ambient conditions using Electrostatic Force Microscopy (EFM).

The exciting properties of graphene are usually only applicable to the material that consists of one or two layers of the graphene sheets. Whilst synthesis of any number of layers is possible, the thicker layers have properties closer to the more common bulk graphite.

For device applications one- and two-layer graphene needs to be precisely identified apart from the substrate and regions of thicker graphene. Exfoliated graphene sheets up to ~100 μm in size can be routinely identified by optical microscopy. However, the situation is much more complicated in the case of the epitaxial graphene grown on silicon carbide wafers with a diameter up to 5 inches where the straightforward identification of the graphene thickness is difficult using standard techniques. This research shows that EFM, which is one of the most widely accessible and simplest implementations of scanning probe microscopy, can clearly identify different graphene thicknesses. The technique can also be used in ambient environments applicable to industrial requirements.

This work was recently published in Nano Letters

Graphene - seeing an atomic thickness
The left hand image is the topography; the middle the topography error image; and right the electrostatic
force microscopy imagewhere the tip bias has been switched half way through the image.

Find out more about NPL's Functional Materials research

Find out more about NPL's research into Quantum Phenomena

For more information, please contact Olga Kazakova

Last Updated: 10 Jan 2013
Created: 18 May 2011


Please note that the information will not be divulged to third parties, or used without your permission