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Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) or Scanning Force Microscopy (SFM) is a very high-resolution type of Scanning Probe Microscopy (SPM), with demonstrated resolution on the order of fractions of a nanometer, more than 1000 times better than the optical diffraction limit. The precursor to the AFM, the Scanning Tunneling Microscope (STM), was developed by Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer in the early 1980s at IBM Research - Zurich, a development that earned them the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1986.
As the name suggests, the heart of an AFM is a probe that is scanned over the sample surface to build up some form of image. The type of image you get depends on the interaction that is measured by the probe. Images can be produced that reflect many different properties of the sample. The sample height information (topography), usually forms one aspect of the image, but images can also be collected that show other properties, including mechanical, electrostatic, optical, or magnetic information about the sample surface.
Different probes and measurement systems are used for some of the different properties that can be measured, but one requirement is that the interaction between the probe and the sample is localised in some way. The measured signal must be dominated by some small region of the sample close to the tip, so that an image of the sample can be formed as the tip is scanned over the surface. This implies that the interaction must have a strong distance dependence, so that only the nearest parts of the sample contribute to the interaction felt by the tip. The range of the interaction will be one factor in the final resolution of the instrument. When the interaction has a very strong distance dependence, such as the electron tunelling current used in STM, the resolution can be good enough to "feel" individual atoms.
Since the measured signal should be dominated by the small region of probe and sample that are closest together, the actual probe does not need to be an isolated point. The probe can be part of some larger structure that is more convenient to mount and scan. The size of the probe can be relatively large, perhaps hundreds of microns or more, but if the interaction has a short enough range then the signal will be dominated by the very tip region of the probe, so that resolutions can still be achieved in the range from atomic distances to microns.
The idea of a probe measuring a local interaction and building up an image is relatively straightforward, but the actual implementation of a system with a resolution in this range is technically challenging. Many factors came together in the development of scanning probe microscopy, including the development of piezoelectric materials that made it possible to reproducibly position and scan components with a sub-nanometre precision.
Here is a market overview of instruments made by specialist manufacturers and companies around the globe.
Piezoresponse Force Microscopy
This application note presents a primer on the direct and reverse piezoelectric effects and their uses, and the instrumentation and applications of piezoresponse force microscopy... read more
Choosing AFM Probes for Biological Applications
The appropriate choice of AFM probe is crucial for optimal results when imaging biological samples. This application note provides an overview of probes available for biological applications... read more
AFM Applications in Polymer
Polymers are the material of choice in many applications. They can be tailored to have unique properties and are often less expensive, more durable, and more sustainable than other materials. Creating and implementing new polymers requires knowledge of how structure, processing, properties, and performance are related... read more
Characterization of Steel by MFM and KPFM
Examination of steel by the non-contact mode AFM techniques Magnetic Force Microscopy (MFM) and Kelvin Probe Force Microscopy (KPFM) also known as Surface Potential Microscopy... read more
Comprehensive Analyses of Graphene
Graphene shows immense promise in many applications: transistors, sensors, and optoelectronics, to name just a few of them. Flexible and adaptive analyzing methods can support the effective investigation of graphene and accelerate the progress in graphene research and product development... read more
Surfactant Micelles in Aqueous Solution: Critical Resolution in AFM
It’s a widely spread idea that performing AFM in liquids is a rather complicated research approach. Actually, many tasks related to the investigation of molecular structures and complexesin a liquid environment... read more
Manipulation of Gold Nanoparticles in Liquids Using MAC Mode Atomic Force Microscopy
Precise control of the structure of matter at the nanometer scale will have revolutionary implications for science and technology. Nanoelectromechanical systems (NEMS) will be extremely small and fast, and have applications that range from cell repair to ultrastrong materials... read more
AFM in Cosmetics Research and Product Development
Sensory perception of hair is a primary concern among cosmetic manufacturers. The way hair looks and feels to the touch is related to the structure and properties of hair at the nanometer scale. The Atomic Force Microscope (AFM) offers direct, highly localized, tactile interface with the hair’s outer surface in environments to which hair is usually exposed... read more
Investigation of Solar Cells
While traditional tools are helpful to investigate and improve solar cells, AFM/SPM offers metrology, topography & roughness analysis at much higher resolution than with optical techniques... read more
AFM Atomic Force Microscope