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Nano Lett. 2009 Apr;9(4):1451-6. doi: 10.1021/nl803298q.

Ultrastable atomic force microscopy: atomic-scale stability and registration in ambient conditions.

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  • 1JILA, National Institute of Standards and Technology, and University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado 80309, USA.


Instrumental drift in atomic force microscopy (AFM) remains a critical, largely unaddressed issue that limits tip-sample stability, registration, and the signal-to-noise ratio during imaging. By scattering a laser off the apex of a commercial AFM tip, we locally measured and thereby actively controlled its three-dimensional position above a sample surface to <40 pm (Deltaf = 0.01-10 Hz) in air at room temperature. With this enhanced stability, we overcame the traditional need to scan rapidly while imaging and achieved a 5-fold increase in the image signal-to-noise ratio. Finally, we demonstrated atomic-scale ( approximately 100 pm) tip-sample stability and registration over tens of minutes with a series of AFM images on transparent substrates. The stabilization technique requires low laser power (<1 mW), imparts a minimal perturbation upon the cantilever, and is independent of the tip-sample interaction. This work extends atomic-scale tip-sample control, previously restricted to cryogenic temperatures and ultrahigh vacuum, to a wide range of perturbative operating environments.

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