Can Point Defects in Surfaces in Solution be Atomically Resolved by Atomic Force Microscopy?

B Reischl and P Raiteri and JD Gale and AL Rohl, PHYSICAL REVIEW LETTERS, 117, 226101 (2016).

DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.117.226101

While the atomic force microscope (AFM) is able to image mineral surfaces in solution with atomic resolution, so far, it has been a matter of debate whether imaging point defects is also possible under these conditions. The difficulties stem from the limited knowledge of what types of defects may be stable in the presence of an AFM tip, as well as from the complicated imaging mechanism involving interactions between hydration layers over the surface and around the tip apex. Here, we present atomistic molecular dynamics and free energy calculations of the AFM imaging of vacancies and ionic substitutions in the calcite (10 (1) over bar4) surface in water, using a new silica AFM tip model. Our results indicate that both calcium and carbonate vacancies, as well as a magnesium substitution, could be resolved in an AFM experiment, albeit with different imaging mechanisms.

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