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Using an atomic force microscope equipped with a conducting diamond tip, the surface potential on a current carrying gold nanowire was measured with microvolt potential sensitivity and nanometer spatial resolution. Potentiometry images illustrate the stages of failure of nanowires subjected to current stressing. During this failure process, a discontinuity in the potential gradient and an enhanced resistance region were observed at the failure site until a complete fracture was formed. By increasing the repulsive force and accurately positioning the tip, gold could be manipulated into the nanoscale fracture so that the electrical conductivity of the nanowire was regained. © 1998 American Institute of Physics.