The operation principle and main properties of a Scanning Capacitance Microscope (SCM) are described. It is called low-frequency, because in its design typical low-frequency techniques are utilised. The main attention is focused on its lateral resolution, signal-to-noise ratio and the possibility to detect dielectric losses.
Mapping the electrostatic field of a shielded microscope probe was used to calculate the stray capacitance, flux density, sensitivity and contrast obtained on a flat conducting surface, as well as on a surface covered by a thin dielectric film. The effect of dielectric losses, represented by a parallel conductance, on the detected capacitance and the resulting phase shift has been derived.
Using the results of mapping, the requirements on a SCM input stage and the possible solutions are discussed. From the point of view of frequency range and noise the best is an electrometric input stage, with input impedance represented by its capacitance.
The achieved signal-to-noise ratio of the low frequency Scanning Capacitance Microscope renders the extension of the working frequency range to lower frequencies. The input stage can be optimised for a frequency range from about 1 kHz to a few MHz, with the possibility to extend it to about 10 MHz at the cost of reduced sensitivity at the lowest frequencies.