In this study several ScanAsyst Air SiN probes that "failed" were used to image this sample sample. PeakForce tapping was used with ScanAsyst, but any imaging mode would work. Because of the symmetric point-like nature of the objects, and because the radius of the Sn spheres (~ 20 nm) is close to the probe radius (~ 2 nm, but < 20 nm).
This allows one to effectively directly image the functional part of the probe. In the first two images one finds objects that look at least half-normal.
In the first image the spheres are all surrounded by something of a halo. The spheres are always in the left margin of this halo. In general, any image with self-similar features can be assumed to reflect imaging artifacts.
The second also reflects self-similar features. The objects all have a similar shape with a tail extending to the top left. What is interesting is that the density of objects is much higher as well. The objects all have multiple companions showing that the functional image surface is split into multiple parts.
While the first two images could be glossed as normal, the third and fourth images show radically damaged probes.
The last image shows a probe so broadened in radius that no objects are visible.