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Labardi, M., Tripathi, P., Capaccioli, S., Casalini, R.,
Local dielectric spectroscopy (LDS) is a scanning probe method, based on dynamic-mode atomic force microscopy (AFM), to discriminate dielectric properties at surfaces with nanometer-scale lateral resolution. Until now a sub-10 nm resolution for LDS has not been documented, that would give access to the length scale of fundamental physical phenomena such as the cooperativity length related to structural arrest in glass formers (2-3 nm). In this work, LDS performed by a peculiar variant of intermittent-contact mode of AFM, named constant-excitation frequency modulation, was introduced and extensively explored in order to assess its best resolution capability. Dependence of resolution and contrast of dielectric imaging and spectroscopy on operation parameters like probe oscillation amplitude and free amplitude, the resulting frequency shift, and probe/surface distance-regulation feedback gain, were explored. By using thin films of a diblock copolymer of polystyrene (PS) and polymethylmethacrylate (PMMA), exhibiting phase separation on the nanometer scale, lateral resolution of at least 3 nm was demonstrated in both dielectric imaging and localized spectroscopy, by operating with optimized parameters. The interface within lamellar PS/PMMA was mapped, with a best width in the range between 1 and 3 nm. Changes of characteristic time of the secondary (β) relaxation process of PMMA could be tracked across the interface with PS.NA.