In 2014, Charge Gradient Microscopy (CGM) was first reported as a new scanning probe imaging mode, particularly well-suited for the characterisation of ferroelectrics. The implementation of the technique is straightforward; it involves monitoring currents that spontaneously develop between a passive conducting atomic force microscopy tip and Earth, as the tip is scanned across the specimen surface. However, details on the fundamental origin of contrast and what images mean, in terms of associated ferroelectric microstructures, are not yet fully understood. Here, by comparing information from CGM and Kelvin Probe Force Microscopy (KPFM), obtained from the same sets of ferroelectric domains (in both lithium niobate and barium titanate), we show that CGM reasonably reflects the spatial derivative of the measured surface potential. This is conceptually different from measuring local gradients in the surface bound-charge density or in any associated screening charges: after all, we see clear CGM signals, even when polarisation is entirely in-plane. We therefore suggest that CGM in ferroelectrics might be more accurately called Potential Gradient Microscopy (PGM). Intriguingly, in all cases examined, the measured surface potential (determined both through KPFM and by integrating the CGM signal) is of the opposite sign to that intuitively expected for a completely clean ferroelectric in vacuum. This is commonly observed and presumed due to a charge accumulation on the ferroelectric surface which is not easily removed.
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|Submitted - 4 Jan 2021