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  • Scanning Probe Microscope Accelerated
Apr 2010
SAARBRÜCKEN, Germany, April 20, 2010 — For more than 20 years, the scanning force microscope has been employed in research and industry. Its enormous resolution has triggered many applications in nanotechnology. There is, however, a disadvantage — the low image rate doesn’t allow for changing objects and processes to be imaged. Now, physicists at Saarland University have developed a technology that could accelerate scanning probe microscopes by a factor of 1000.

A scanning probe microscope works like a record player. There, a needle follows the record track, mapping the fine structure of the track. The microscope uses a much smaller silicon needle instead, and direct contact with the surface is avoided. Surface structures are mapped by atomic forces, usually van der Waals interactions.

Physicists of Saarland University in the team of professor Uwe Hartmann (pictured) have developed a technology that will accelerate scanning probe microscopes by a factor of 1000. (Photo: Bellhäuser)

“Even though the needle is tiny, there are still physical limits. Therefore we were looking for a component that is again a factor of 100 smaller than those used currently,” explained Uwe Hartmann, professor of nanostructure research and nanotechnology at Saarland University. With the nanocantilever, as it is called, surfaces will be mapped a lot faster and with higher precision.

“The processes nanotechnology is dealing with, however, have typical frequencies of gigahertz,” said Hartmann. “These are one billion cycles per second. On the other hand, the velocity by which a hair is growing may well disturb the imaging process.”

State-of-the-art scanning probe microscopes operate at frequencies around 100 KHz. With his team's design, 100 images per second and more, and an increase in resolution will also be possible (this is more than a video rate).

The detector for the movements of the nanocantilever is separated from the nanocantilever by less than the wavelength of light, just one-five hundredth of a hair's diameter. The result is a mapping of the surface with superior speed and precision. In cooperation with partners a prototype of the new scanning force microscope is currently set up for which there is also patent application being pursued. The device, which uses only standard materials of microelectronics, will operate until the end of the year. The researchers are now looking for an industry partner.

“On the Hannover Messe we will not show an exhibit. However we will demonstrate the principle of the scanning force microscope in a three-dimensional visualization,” Hartmann said.

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The use of atoms, molecules and molecular-scale structures to enhance existing technology and develop new materials and devices. The goal of this technology is to manipulate atomic and molecular particles to create devices that are thousands of times smaller and faster than those of the current microtechnologies.
scanning probe microscope
See atomic force microscope; magnetic force microscope; near-field scanning optical microscope; scanning tunneling microscope.
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