AFM-Atomic Force Microscope

AFM-Atomic Force Mircoscope

modes of operation for an AFM are static mode and dynamic mode. In static mode, the cantilever is ‘dragged’ across the surface of the sample and the contours of the surface are measured directly using the deflection of the cantilever. In the dynamic mode, the cantilever is externally oscillated at or close to its fundamental resonance frequency or a harmonic. The oscillation amplitude, phase and resonance frequency are modified by tip-sample interaction forces. These changes in oscillation with respect to the external reference oscillation provide information about the sample’s characteristics.

Tapping Mode

the cantilever is driven to oscillate up and down at near its resonance frequency by a small piezoelectric element mounted in the AFM tip holder similar to non-contact mode. However, the amplitude of this oscillation is greater than 10 nm, typically 100 to 200 nm. Due to the interaction of forces acting on the cantilever when the tip comes close to the surface, Van der Waals force, dipole-dipole interaction, electrostatic forces, etc cause the amplitude of this oscillation to decrease as the tip gets closer to the sample. An electronic servo uses the piezoelectric actuator to control the height of the cantilever above the sample. The servo adjusts the height to maintain a set cantilever oscillation amplitude as the cantilever is scanned over the sample. A tapping AFM image is therefore produced by imaging the force of the intermittent contacts of the tip with the sample surface.

Contact Mode

the static tip deflection is used as a feedback signal. Because the measurement of a static signal is prone to noise and drift, low stiffness cantilevers are used to boost the deflection signal. However, close to the surface of the sample, attractive forces can be quite strong, causing the tip to ‘snap-in’ to the surface. Thus static mode AFM is almost always done in contact where the overall force is repulsive. Consequently, this technique is typically called ‘contact mode’. In contact mode, the force between the tip and the surface is kept constant during scanning by maintaining a constant deflection.

Non-Contact Mode

the tip of the cantilever does not contact the sample surface. The cantilever is instead oscillated at a frequency slightly above its resonance frequency where the amplitude of oscillation is typically a few nanometers (<10 nm). The van der Waals forces, which are strongest from 1 nm to 10 nm above the surface, or any other long range force which extends above the surface acts to decrease the resonance frequency of the cantilever. This decrease in resonance frequency combined with the feedback loop system maintains a constant oscillation amplitude or frequency by adjusting the average tip-to-sample distance. Measuring the tip-to-sample distance at each (x,y) data point allows the scanning software to construct a topographic image of the sample surface.