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We have developed a method of imaging at high temperatures with atomic force microscopy using a laser to deliver heat to an area localized around the AFM tip–sample junction. We couple approximately 75 mW from an argon-ion laser into the active region to raise the temperature of a 100 nm gold film to around 225 °C. As a sample, we use 1.2 μm polystyrene spheres adsorbed onto the film. We image the flow of these spheres, in situ, over the course of an hour. The dynamics of the polymer spreading is shown to be consistent with the dry spreading of a precursor film. © 1997 American Institute of Physics.