The technique relies on measuring the force interaction between a sharp tip mounted on the end of a cantilever and a surface. As the tip scans across the surface, the deflections of the cantilever in response to surface features are monitored by a laser aligned with the cantilever tip. The laser is reflected onto a position sensitive photodiode detector, which quantifies the data to produce an image.
AFM can be used to map a large variety of functional interfaces that are important in biomaterials, catalysis, energy, sensors, automotive and aerospace applications.
In addition to atomic and molecular level resolution imaging, the AFM can be used to further study other surface parameters, including:
- Surface roughness
- Surface work-function, surface charge and surface friction
- Local elasticity of surfaces
- Conductivity mapping
- Imaging in real time and under physiological conditions
- Molecular interactions and surface hydrophobicity.