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Nanometer-size water bridges have been used to confine the oxidation of silicon surfaces with a noncontact atomic force microscope. The formation of a water bridge between two surfaces separated by a gap of a few nanometers is driven by the application of an electrical field. Once a liquid bridge is formed, its length and neck diameter can be modified by changing the tip-sample separation. The liquid bridge provides the ionic species and the spatial confinement to pattern Si(100) surfaces in noncontact force microscopy. The method is applied to write arrays of several thousands dots with a periodicity of 40 nm and an average width of 10 nm. © 1999 American Institute of Physics.