These transparent conductors are composed of silver nanowires embedded in clear plastic. AFM topography (left) displays those nanowires that contribute to surface morphology. However, buried nanowires do not appear in topographic images.
PiFM imaging (right) does reveal the placement of embedded nanowires by taking advantage of the enhancement of the overlying acrylate polymer signal (1745cm-1) in the presence of a metallic nanowire.
Careful inspection of the PiFM image reveals buried silver nanowires not detected in the topography image. The effect of the buried silver metal wires on the strength of the recorded 1745cm-1 signal can be felt through nanometers of insulating acrylate.
Transparent conductive plastic films hold much potential in applications such as flexible screens and electronics.