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  • Rights: The University of Waikato Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato
    Published 30 May 2008 Referencing Hub media

    Professor Richard Haverkamp, of Massey University, explains how an atomic force microscope works. Includes a short animation of the basic mechanism.

    Point of interest: A piconewton is unit of force equal to 10−12 newtons.


    The atomic force is different from the scanning tunnelling in that you don't pass a current, so you just sense force between a sharp little needle and the atoms on the surface. So you've got a little flexible bar with a sharp tip on it, and on the back its coated with gold and you shine the light on it, and you get a lever effect when the light shines on it. If the little lever moves just a tiny bit, the light moves a long distance.

    So you’re measuring the force between a tiny tip and a sample, and those forces are piconewtons. So that's – an atomic microscope differs from a scanning tunnelling, in that you've got a little flexible lever with a sharp tip on the end, and you're just measuring that physical force.

    Dr Richard Haverkamp, Professor of Nanotechnology, Massey University
    Kristian Mølhave

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