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Engineers Get Successful In Creation of an Atomic Force Microscope That Has Size of a Single Dime

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Shreepanjali Mod

A team of engineering researchers was recently successful in creation of an atomic force microscope (AFM) over a chip which shrinks the dimensions dramatically of a completely hi-tech device that can be characterization of material properties. We hope the prizes of this one will also come down at the same scale. According to Dr. Reza Moheimani, a mechanical engineering professor at the University of Texas located in Dallas, says, “A standard atomic force microscope is a large, bulky instrument, with multiple control loops, electronics and amplifiers. We have managed to miniaturize all of the electromechanical components down onto a single small chip."

The fundamental design of AFM consists of very small sized cantilevers that have a sharp tip closely attached with an end. As this apparatus scans the sample back and forth or as the sample movements takes place under it, the cantilever moves up and down as the top surface follow the surface contours. Moheimani further adds, “An AFM is a microscope that 'sees' a surface kind of the way a visually impaired person might, by touching. You can get a resolution that is well beyond what an optical microscope can achieve. It can capture features that are very, very small."


The UT Dallas based team was successful in creation of its prototype on-chip AFM with the help of a micro electrochemical systems (MEMS) based approach. A research scientist at the Moheimani’s Lab for Dynamics and Control of Nanosystems, Anthony Fowler says that, “A classic example of MEMS technology are the accelerometers and gyroscopes found in smartphones. These used to be big, expensive, mechanical devices, but using MEMS technology, accelerometers have shrunk down onto a single chip, which can be manufactured for just a few dollars apiece." This MEMS based AFM is approx. 1 square centimeter dimensionally and little smaller as compared to that of a dime. It has a small printed circuit board attached with it that has sensors, circuitry, and several other parts of the device