59th American Vacuum Society International Symposium and Exhibition

October 28th - November 2nd  2012, Florida

Invited talk by Dr. Jamie Hobbs entitled "Simple routes to super resolution and high speed AFM"


Simple routes to super resolution and high speed AFM

By Jamie K. Hobbs and N. Mullin


Over the past two decades atomic force microscopy has developed to become the workhorse of molecular nanotechnology. However, despite this success, it has failed to deliver consistently in two areas where it arguably has most potential, namely sub-molecular resolution imaging and the following of processes in real time. Here our work to tackle these challenges will be discussed.

We have developed a new approach to reaching high resolution within a conventional AFM, based on torsionally driven T-shaped cantilevers, dubbed “torsional tapping AFM”. The use of torsional oscillations gives improved dynamics (high Q-factor, high frequency), without excessively increasing the spring constant. The small offset of the tip from the axis of rotation gives improved lever sensitivity. Combined, these result in an approximately 12 fold improvement in sensitivity when compared to the same AFM with a conventional tapping cantilever. This improved sensitivity allows ultra-sharp whisker tips to be used in a routine manner, giving true molecular resolution even on soft materials presenting surfaces with tens of nanometres of topography. For example, individual polyethylene chains both in the crystalline phase, and at the interface with the amorphous phase, can be clearly imaged in a conventionally processed sample of plastic, with polymer chain-to-chain resolution down to 0.37 nm [1]. Data from semi-crystalline polymers to naturally occurring protein crystals will be presented.

High speed AFM requires methods for scanning rapidly, for maintaining tip-sample contact (“feedback”), and for constructing the topography image. We have shown that resonant scanners [2] give a robust method for rapid scanning. In a conventional AFM the feedback and the topographic image are inextricably linked. However, this places a limit on scan speed as it demands that the tip has reached equilibrium at each point on the image if the height is going to be accurately obtained. We have adopted a different approach, in which the height of the tip is directly measured using an interferometric approach, freeing the feedback loop to minimising tip-sample forces. This allows topographic images with height traceable to the wavelength of the interferometric laser to be obtained at imaging rates greater than one frame a second. Coupled with resonant scanners, giving scan areas up to 40×40 m2 an AFM platform capable of in-line industrial applications is obtained.

1.      Mullin, N.; Hobbs, J. K., Phys Rev Lett 2011, 107
2.      Humphris, A. D. L.; Miles, M. J.; Hobbs, J. K Appl Phys Lett 2005, 86 (3)