When the LASER was invented, it had immediate applications for scientific research in the fields of molecular and atomic spectroscopy. It's hard to imagine, but at that time many researchers were more than satisfied with their mercury lamps and monochrometers and believed the laser was a passing fad. Another contingent of scientists and engineers fully realized that the real value of the laser was in several of its intrinsic properties, including extremely high power densities, coherence, and the low spatial divergence of laser light. These intrinsic properties created a larger volume of applications for lasers in such diverse areas as consumer products, medical devices, and manufacturing processes.
Today, Atomic Force Microscopes are used for research applications in all disciplines of science and engineering. And, as each year passes since the invention of the AFM, more and more spectacular images are released of nanostructures measured with an AFM. However, AFM images are only the tip of the iceberg in the potential applications for Atomic Force Microscopes and their underlying technologies. There are three intrinsic properties of the AFM that will result in numerous technical advances and will enable the creation of new products and processes. They are...
The resolution of the AFM is built-in at the nanoscale
Historically, the sensitivity and resolving power scale of analytical and scientific instruments was related to the size of the instrument: that is, larger instruments were required for higher sensitivity. With the AFM, a large size has no relation to the instrument's sensitivity. All the resolution is built into the tip, and in the ability to control the tip motion with nanoscale accuracy and precision.
The ability to create objects by mechanical shaping started in the bronze age when objects were created using hammers; objects with tolerances of a millimeter could be fabricated. By the 1970's, with high precision milling machines, tolerances of a few microns were possible. Now with AFM technology, we can use a nanoscale tip to machine with another six orders of magnitude, down to the nanoscale.
Nanoscale Motion Control
Precise motion control has relied on moving parts with clearance tolerances of about 25 microns. Without these tolerances, bearing, pistons and hinges will not work. With the piezo electric motion control used in an AFM, these tolerances are reduced to the atomic scale.
Nanolithography is an example of the intrinsic machining properties of AFMs. The AFM's probe is used to alter the physical or chemical properties of a surface. Below are images of lines and indents made with an AFM probe on a PMMA surface. AFMWorkshop offers a nanolithography software option.
AFMs will continue to be important tools for nanotechnology research and development. While it's hard to predict the new products and processes that will be derived from the intrinsic properties of the AFM, it is certain that we haven't yet begun to scratch the surface of possibilities.
AFMWorkshop offers a full range of AFMs for research, process development and control, and for education. Popular models include a Table Top AFM (TT AFM), Life Sciences AFM (LS AFM), a Nano Profiling AFM (NP AFM), and a Stand Alone AFM (SA AFM). Additionally, AFMWorkshop partners with many instrument innovators and original equipment manufacturers in developing specialized AFMs. For more information on AFMWorkshop's Lithography Software Option, please click here .