Internal image potential in semiconductors: Effect on scanning tunneling microscopy Academic Article uri icon


  • The tunneling of electrons from a semiconductor surface to a metal tip, across a vacuum gap, is influenced by two image interactions: an attractive image potential in the vacuum region, which lowers the apparent tunneling barrier, and a repulsive image potential in the semiconductor interior, which raises it for conduction-band electrons. We report on detailed calculations of tunneling currents and apparent barrier heights for a model metal-vacuum- semiconductor junction which utilize semiclassical dielectric functions to compute the image potential in all three regions. The effect of image forces is found to be small compared to that of either the vacuum barrier or tip-induced band bending. In particular, the image-induced barrier in the semiconductor has only a minor influence on either the apparent barrier height or the shape of current-voltage characteristics, both of which are routinely measured in scanning-tunneling-microscopy experiments. This finding is explained by a qualitative WKB analysis and several simple arguments. © 1993 The American Physical Society.

author list (cited authors)

  • Huang, Z., Weimer, M., & Allen, R. E.

citation count

  • 10

publication date

  • November 1993