A new imaging strategy using atomic force microscopy (AFM) is demonstrated for mapping magnetic domains at size regimes below 100 nm. The AFM-based imaging mode is referred to as magnetic sample modulation (MSM), since the flux of an AC-generated electromagnetic field is used to induce physical movement of magnetic nanomaterials on surfaces during imaging. The AFM is operated in contact mode using a soft, nonmagnetic tip to detect the physical motion of the sample. By slowly scanning an AFM probe across a vibrating area of the sample, the frequency and amplitude of vibration induced by the magnetic field is tracked by changes in tip deflection. Thus, the AFM tip serves as a force and motion sensor for mapping the vibrational response of magnetic nanomaterials. Essentially, MSM is a hybrid of contact mode AFM combined with selective modulation of magnetic domains. The positional feedback loop for MSM imaging is the same as that used for force modulation and contact mode AFM; however, the vibration of the sample is analyzed using channels of a lock-in amplifier. The investigations are facilitated by nanofabrication methods combining particle lithography with organic vapor deposition and electroless deposition of iron oxide, to prepare designed test platforms of magnetic materials at nanometer length scales. Custom test platforms furnished suitable surfaces for MSM characterizations at the level of individual metal nanostructures.
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