Accurate Electromechanical Characterization of Soft Molecular Monolayers using Piezo Force Microscopy

We report a new methodology for the electromechanical characterization of organic monolayers based on the implementation of dual AC resonance tracking piezo force microscopy (DART-PFM) combined with a sweep of an applied DC field under a fixed AC field. This experimental design allows calibration of the electrostatic component of the tip response and enables the use of low spring constant levers in the measurement. Moreover, the technique is shown to determine both positive and negative piezo response. The successful decoupling of the electrostatic component from the mechanical response will enable more quantitative electromechanical characterization of molecular and biomaterials and should generate new design principles for soft bio-compatible piezoactive materials. To highlight the applicability, our new methodology was used to successfully characterize the piezoelectric coefficient (d33) of a variety of piezoactive materials, including self-assembled monolayers made of small molecules (dodecane thiol, mercaptoundecanoic acid) or macromolecules (peptides, peptoids), as well as a variety of inorganic materials, including lead zirconate titanate [PZT], quartz, and periodically poled lithium niobate [PPLN]. Due to high differential capacitance, the soft organic monolayers demonstrated exceedingly large electromechanical response (as high as 250 pm/V) but smaller d33piezocoefficients. Finally, we find that the capacitive electrostatic response of the organic monolayers studied are significantly larger than conventional inorganic piezoelectric materials (e.g., PZT, PPLN, quartz), suggesting organic electromechanical materials applications can successfully draw from both piezo and electrostatic responses.