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Making a point: Picoscale stability in a room-temperature AFM
Date:3/25/2009

lated environments, but those options arent available for the vast majority of AFMs, particularly those used in bioscience laboratories where the specimen often must be immersed in a fluid.

The JILA solution uses two additional laser beams to sense the three-dimensional motion of both the test specimen and the AFM probe. The beams are held stable relative to each other to provide a common reference. To hold the specimen, the team uses a transparent substrate with tiny silicon disksfiducial marksembedded in it at regular intervals. One laser beam is focused on one of these disks. A small portion of the light scatters backwards to a detector. Any lateral vibration or drift of the sample shows up at the detector as a motion of the spot while any vertical movement shows up as a change in light intensity.** A similar trick with the second beam is used to detect vibration or drift in the probe tip, with the added complication that the system has to work with the scant amount of light reflected off the apex of the AFM probe. Unwanted motion of the tip relative to the sample is corrected on the fly by moving the substrate in the opposite direction. This is the same idea as active noise cancellation headphones, but applied to atomic force microscopy, says Perkins.

In its most recent work, the JILA team has controlled the probes position in three dimensions to better than 40 picometers (1 nanometer = 1000 picometers) over 100 seconds. In imaging applications, they showed the long-term drift at room temperature was a mere 5 picometers per minute, a 100-fold improvement over the best previous results under ambient conditions. Just like photographers use the stability of a tripod and longer exposures to improve picture quality, the JILA team used their improved stability to scan the AFM probe more slowly, leading to a 5-fold improvement in AFM image quality. A bonus, says Perkins, is the technique works with standard commercial probes.


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Contact: Michael Baum
michael.baum@nist.gov
301-975-2763
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
Source:Eurekalert

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