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The applicability of scanning probe microscopy in the dielectric breakdown characteristics of silicon oxide has been demonstrated. Our study demonstrates that the measurement on the oxide is free from the effect of trapped charge created by Fowler–Nordheim tunneling when a sufficient distance is maintained between the measuring points. In this condition, for a 13-nm-thick oxide, the dielectric breakdown voltages were found to be so uniform as to fluctuate only 1%. We applied this method to oxides on the wafers from two different vendors, and found that the dielectric breakdown strength of the oxide depends on the difference on the Si substrates. We also applied this method to a square oxide pattern surrounded by a field oxide, and the result was that the dielectric breakdown strength of the oxide on the edge is lower than the one in the center. © 1997 American Vacuum Society.