Water condensation is shown to have a major influence on electric charge transport and nanostructure formation in polymer-, and semiconductor-thin-film surfaces in the proximity of a biased Atomic Force Microscope (AFM) tip. The water forms a meniscus bridge between the AFM tip and the surface to form a three-component system comprised of the AFM tip, water meniscus, and the surface. The associated electric field in the meniscus is spatially non-uniform and has a magnitude of the order of 108-1010 Vm-1. An intensive experimental analysis of the input and output electric currents in the AFM tip/water meniscus/surface system, performed at various relative humidity levels between 10 and 60%, indicates that the magnitude of the output current, drained from surface, reaches values as large as several μA which exceeds the input current, injected via the AFM tip (0.01-10 nA), by at least an order of magnitude. This effect is particularly evident when the relative humidity is greater than 20-25%, suggesting that the water meniscus is ionized by the strong electric field to produce electrons. Since the method described here for nanopatterning is applicable for materials with significantly different physical, electronic, and optical properties, and is dependent largely on the ambient humidity level and the strength of the electric field, it is suggested that the method may be extended to a variety of other materials.
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