Conductive atomic force microscopy (C-AFM) is a valuable technique for correlating the electrical properties of a material with its topographic features and for identifying and characterizing conductive pathways in polymer composites. However, aspects such as compatibility between tip material and sample, contact force and area between the tip and the sample, tip degradation and environmental conditions render quantifying the results quite challenging. This study aims at finding the suitable conditions for C-AFM to generate reliable, reproducible, and quantitative current maps that can be used to calculate the resistance in each point of a single-walled carbon nanotube (SWCNT) network, nonimpregnated as well as impregnated with a polymer. The results obtained emphasize the technique's limitation at the macroscale as the resistance of these highly conductive samples cannot be distinguished from the tip-sample contact resistance. Quantitative C-AFM measurements on thin composite sections of 150-350 nm enable the separation of sample and tip-sample contact resistance, but also indicate that these sections are not representative for the overall SWCNT network. Nevertheless, the technique was successfully used to characterize the local electrical properties of the composite material, such as sample homogeneity and resistance range of individual SWCNT clusters, at the nano- and microscale.
- carbon nanotubes
- conductive nanocomposites
- conductive-atomic force microscopy
- polymer composite