Advanced Analytical Centre

Advanced Analytical Centre

Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM)

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Technique in brief

An atomic force microscope (AFM) is a high-resolution, scanning microscope capable of imaging and measuring samples on the nanometer to angstrom scale. A fine probe on a cantilever is used to scan the surface of a specimen. Forces generated as the tip of the probe interacts with the surface are recorded as deflections on the cantilever. Using a wide variety of scanning modes and tip designs many different properties of a specimen can be examined including; 3-dimensional mapping of topography, phase imaging, mechanical, magnetic and electrical properties.


The current AFM is a NT-MDT NTEGRA , a high-resolution, low-noise scanning probe microscope with integrated analysis software for a range of AFM applications. In addition, a Hysitron Triboscope nano-indenter interfaces with the AFM for the measurement of mechanical properties.


AFM techniques:

In air & liquid: AFM (contact + semi-contact) / Lateral Force Microscopy / Phase Imaging/ Force Modulation/ Adhesion Force Imaging/ Lithography: AFM (Force)

In air only: Magnetic Force Microscopy/ Electrostatic Force Microscopy/ Scanning Capacitance Microscopy/ Kelvin Probe Microscopy/ Spreading Resistance Imaging/ Lithography: AFM (Current)

Nano-indenter techniques:

Measurement of mechanical properties such as hardness, elastic modulus, fracture toughness, ramped and constant force scratch resistance, friction coefficient, wear, and thin film interfacial adhesion.

Sample requirements

  • The maximum scan height for the AFM is 10 µm, therefore a sample must be very flat – at least within the desired scanning region – before it can be imaged.

  • Ideally, samples will be no greater than 1 x 1 x 1 cm3, however it is in theory possible to image samples larger than this.

  • Samples intended for analysis via the TriboScope® NanoIndenter must be fastened onto a steel substrate using a thin, even layer of super glue, and will be no larger than 1 cm in height, breadth or depth.

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