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Test & measurement


The improved cantilever of Dr. Ruppert


Scanning atoms with the tip of a needle


The Atomic Force Microscope (AFM) is an important tool in materials science and used for mechanical scanning of surfaces. The forces acting between the atoms of the surface and the tip of a nanoscopic needle are measured and calculated giving resolutions in the order of fractions of a nanometer. Now, the University of Newcastle in Australia is improving and simplifying these complex machines, so that a wider use in laboratories worldwide will be possible. In this research, an eight-channel Spectrum digitizerNETBOX provides the high precision needed to push the evolution of AFMs.


T


he Atomic Force Microscope (AFM), invented in 1985, became a vital tool used by laboratories around the world


that are involved in surface chemistry. Its outstanding resolution means that this instrument can reveal more detail than conventional light-based microscopes by a factor of more than 1,000 times. And, unlike other advanced systems such as electron microscopes, it can image samples in situ. This, along with the ability to perform topographical imaging and force measurements, makes AFMs well suited for the study of soft biological materials, polymers, nanostructures and various other materials. At the University of Newcastle, Dr. Michael


Ruppert and his team are improving the key elements of AFM systems. The aim is to simplify the operation as well as to enhance the overall performance of these microscopes. The Precision Mechatronics Lab at the University’s School of Electrical Engineering and Computing brings together expertise in nanotechnology, mechatronics, microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) and low-noise electronic design to create unique solutions that can reduce an AFM’s system complexity and cost. An AFM typically creates a topographical


image by scanning a cantilever/tip across a sample 30


surface. A laser beam and position-sensitive photodiode detector is then used to determine small changes in cantilever deflection. Signals from the detector need to be acquired and analysed in order to determine any topological height changes on the sample’s surface to create a three-dimensional topography.


At the core of the instrument is a


microcantilever which interacts with the sample and provides the “physical link” to measuring nanomechanical properties. While cantilever microfabrication technology has continuously advanced over the years, the overall design has remained largely unchanged;


Schematic setup of a traditional multifrequency atomic force microscopy experiment. A cantilever vibrates at multiple resonance frequencies simultaneously while it is being scanned over a sample by a nanopositioner.


March 2021 Instrumentation Monthly


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