Determination of Contact Potential Difference by the Kelvin Probe (Part I) I. Basic Principles of Measurements

O. Vilitis 1 , M. Rutkis 1 , J. Busenberg 1 , and D. Merkulov 2
  • 1 Institute of Solid State Physics, University of Latvia, Riga, LATVIA
  • 2 Riga Technical University, Riga, LATVIA


Determination of electric potential difference using the Kelvin probe, i.e. vibrating capacitor technique, is one of the most sensitive measuring procedures in surface physics. Periodic modulation of distance between electrodes leads to changes in capacitance, thereby causing current to flow through the external circuit. The procedure of contactless, non-destructive determination of contact potential difference between an electrically conductive vibrating reference electrode and an electrically conductive sample is based on precise control measurement of Kelvin current flowing through a capacitor. The present research is devoted to creation of a new low-cost miniaturised measurement system to determine potential difference in real time and at high measurement resolution. Furthermore, using the electrode of a reference probe, the Kelvin method leads to both the indirect measurement of an electronic work function, or a contact potential of sample, and of a surface potential for insulator type samples.

In the article, the first part of the research, i.e., the basic principles and prerequisites for establishment of such a measurement system are considered.

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

  • 1. Volta, A. (1800). On the electricity exited by the mere contact of conducting substances of different kinds. Philos. Mag. 7, 298–311.

  • 2. Maljusch, A., Henry, J.B., Tymoczko, J., Bondarenka, A.S., and Schuhmann, W. (2013). Towards linking basic surface properties with electrocatalytic activity. Electronic Supplementary Material (ES) for RSC Advances, 1–3.

  • 3. McNaught, A.D., and Wilkinson, A. (1997). IUPAC. Compendiom of Chemical Terminology. Oxford: Blackwell Scientific Publications.

  • 4. Maljusch, A. (2012). Integrated scanning Kelvin probe – scanning electrochemical microscopy system: design, development and applications. Diss., 1–245.

  • 5. Ostrick, B. (2000). Die Untersuchung der Karbonat – Kohlendioxid – Wechselwirkung im Feuchtefilm der Oberfläche. Diss., 1–131.

  • 6. Kronik, L., and Shapira, Y. (1999). Surface photovoltage phenomena: theory, experiment, and applications Surf. Sci.e Rep. 37, 1–206.

  • 7. Thomson, W. (later Lord Kelvin) (1898). Contact electricity of metals. Philos. Mag. 46, 82–120.

  • 8. Zisman, W.A. (1932). Rev Sci. Instrum.3. 367–370.

  • 9. Thompson, M., and Cheran, L.E. (2006). Scanning Kelvin microprobe system and process for analyzing a surface. US Patent Nr. US 7084661 B2.

  • 10. Filipavičivs, V., Gaidys, R., Matulaitis, V.A., Petrauskas, G., Sakalas, A., and Sakalauskas, A. (1987). Investigation of the surface states in heavily doped GaAs by Kelvin probe. Phys. Stat. Sol. 99, 543–547.

  • 11. Lange, I., Blakeslay, J.C., Frisch, J., Vollmer, A., Koch, N., and Neher, D. (2011). Band bending in conjugated polymer layers. Phys. Rev. Letters 106, 216402-1–216402-4.

  • 12. Vilitis, O., Fonavs, E., and Muzikante, I. (2001). A system for measuring surface potential by the Kelvin-Zisman vibrating capacitor probe. Latv. J. Phys. Techn. Sci.5, 38–56.

  • 13. Pfeiffer, M., and Leo, K. (1996). Fermi level determination in organoc thin films by the Kelvin probe method. J. Appl Phys. 80 (12), 6880–6883.

  • 14. Ritty, B., Wahtel, Ott, F., Manquenouille, R., and Donnet, J.B. (1980). New application of the Kelvin method involving the scanning of the bucking voltage. Rev. Sci. Instrum.51 (10), 1421–1423.


Journal + Issues