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Initially, scanning tunneling microscopy was the only scanning-probe-based method that was able to achieve this resolution. Atomic force microscopy AFM , on the other hand, was quickly developed into a versatile tool with applications ranging from materials characterization in ultrahigh vacuum and nanofabrication under ambient conditions, to biological studies in liquids, but its resolution was limited to the nanometer scale.

The reason for this restriction resulted from the fact that the resolution in probe microscopy scales with the sharpness of the tip. In conventional AFM operational modes, a tip that is located at the end of a leaf spring the so-called cantilever is either dragged over the surface in permanent contact or gently taps the surface while vibrating, and, whichever mode is used, tips quickly blunt through either permanent or intermittent contact. Maintaining the atomic sharpness of an initially atomically sharp tip requires that the tip never touches the surface. But how can the tip know that the surface is there if it is not allowed to touch?

This problem was solved in the s through the realization that the attractive forces acting on the tip when it is in close proximity to the sample affect the resonance frequency of the cantilever even though it is not in actual contact with the surface. Noncontact atomic force microscopy NC-AFM makes use of this effect by tracking the shift of the cantilever resonance frequency due to the force field of the surface without ever establishing physical contact between the tip and sample. Much to the astonishment of many, changes induced by individual atoms turned out to induce frequency shifts that are large enough to be detected, and thus atomic-scale imaging with AFM became a reality.

Since the beginnings, almost two decades ago, NC-AFM has evolved into a powerful method that is able not just to image surfaces, but also to quantify tip—sample forces and interaction potentials as well as to manipulate individual atoms on conductors, semiconductors, and insulators alike. For the community to keep track of the rapid development in the field, a series of annual international conferences, starting in Osaka, Japan in , has been established.

The most recent conference from this series was held in Lindau, Germany, from September 18—22, Once again, substantial progress was presented; NC-AFM is now able to quantitatively map three-dimensional force fields of surfaces with atomic resolution in ultrahigh vacuum as well as in liquids, and methodological developments add more information to the measurements, for example, through the driving of higher cantilever harmonics or the recording of tunneling currents.

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For this Thematic Series of the Beilstein Journal of Nanotechnology , many of the presenters from the Lindau conference agreed to submit contributions in order to assemble a series that showcases the present state of the art in the field. I would like to thank all authors who have contributed their excellent original work to this series, all referees whose promptly provided reports have provided valuable suggestions for further improvements while keeping the publication times short, and the entire NC-AFM community for supporting the open access policy of the Beilstein Journal of Nanotechnology.

Udo D. Mehmet Z.

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Baykara and Udo D. Twitter: BeilsteinInst. Beilstein J. The tuning fork, which is like those found in ordinary wristwatches, is actuated mechanically and oscillates with amplitudes as small as 0. As the AFM tip approaches the sample, the resonance frequency of the tuning fork is shifted due to the forces acting between sample and tip.

Conducting Tip Atomic Force Microscopy: Pt 1 of 2

By scanning the tip over a surface and measuring the differences in the frequency shift, a precise force map of the surface can be derived. The extremely stable measurement conditions were crucial for sensing the minute differences in the force caused by the charge state switching of single atoms. The difference between the force of a neutral gold atom and that of a gold atom charged with an additional electron, for example, was found to be only about 11 piconewton, measured at the minimum distance to the tip of about half a nanometer above the atom.

The measurement accuracy of these experiments is better than 1 piconewton—which is equal to the gravitational force that two adults exert on each other over a distance of more than half a kilometer.


  • Techniques and Concepts of High-Energy Physics VI.
  • Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM).
  • AFM, Non-contact Mode.

Moreover, by measuring the variation of the force with the voltage applied between tip and sample, the scientists were able to distinguish positively from negatively charged single atoms. This breakthrough is yet another crucial advance in the field of atomic-scale science. In contrast to the STM, which can be used only on conducting materials, the AFM is independent of conductivity and can be used for investigating materials of all kinds, most importantly insulators. In the field of molecular electronics, which aims at using molecules as functional building blocks for future computing devices, as well as for single-electron devices, an insulating substrate is needed in order to avoid the leakage of electrons.

IBM scientists directly measure charge states of atoms using an atomic force microscope

This makes noncontact atomic force microscopy the investigation method of choice. To study the charge transfer in molecule complexes, scientists envision that, in future experiments, single atoms could be connected with molecules to form metal-molecular networks. Using the tip for charging these atoms, scientists could then inject electrons into the system and measure their distribution directly with the non-contact AFM see figure 2.

Mapping the charge distribution on the atomic scale might deliver insight into fundamental processes in these fields. Using the qPlus AFM, a team at the IBM Almaden Research Center was the first to measure in the force necessary to move an atom over a surface, paving the way for the present experiment. In , the same group controllably manipulated the charge state of individual atoms using an STM. By inducing voltage pulses through the STM tip, they succeeded in charging an individual atom on a thin insulating film with an additional electron.

Non-contact AFM - IOPscience

Importantly, the negatively charged atom remained stable until a voltage pulse with the opposite bias was applied via the STM tip. This is the method used by scientists in the present experiments to charge the individual atoms. For this invention, which made it possible to image individual atoms and later on to manipulate them, Binnig and Rohrer were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in