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A general scheme for analyzing nonlinear systems is presented, with measurements of the nonlinear I–V characteristics of a gold atomic contact with a mechanically controllable break junction used as an example. Simultaneous measurements of I(V) and ∂I/∂V(V) were analyzed to extract the unbiased conductance from the normalized functional form of I(V). This allows us to remove the error in the conductance measurements associated with fluctuations in the atomic structure of the system (about 5%). This demonstrates the potential of this technique to discover and subsequently understand new phenomena in nanometer scale systems, where measurements are often challenging due to noise, difficult-to-control quantities such as the atomic structure of a contact lead, and the lack of adequate, generally accepted theoretical descriptions. A discussion of the tradeoff between higher-order measurements and averaging artifacts due to nonlinearity is also included. © 2002 American Institute of Physics.
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