Issue Date: March 23, 2009
Stable AFM In Air
With the help of laser light, researchers have developed an atomic force microscope that is ultrastable under ambient conditions, and could be useful for a range of new applications in single-molecule biophysics and nanomanufacturing. Atomic force microscopy (AFM) applications are often limited by mechanical drift between the probe tip and the sample, which makes it difficult to monitor a specific feature on a surface over time. Researchers have been able to minimize drift under ultrahigh vacuum or cryogenic conditions, but these environments aren't conducive to biological studies or nanomanufacturing. Now, a team led by Thomas T. Perkins from JILA, a precision physics lab run jointly by NIST and the University of Colorado, Boulder, scattered a laser off the apex of a commercial AFM tip and added a second laser to create a stable, optically based frame of reference (Nano Lett., DOI: 10.1021/nl803298q). The team controlled the tip's position with high precision in air at room temperature over more than one hour, and increased the signal-to-noise ratio of their AFM images fivefold.
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