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Accurate analytical measurements in the atomic force microscope: A microfabricated spring constant standard potentially traceable to the SI

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Peter Cumpson, Dr John Hedley


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Calibration of atomic force microscope (AFM) cantilevers is necessary for the measurement of nanonewton and piconewton forces, which are critical to analytical applications of AFM in the analysis of polymer surfaces, biological structures and organic molecules at nanoscale lateral resolution. We have developed a compact and easy-to-use reference artefact for this calibration, using a method that allows traceability to the SI (Système International). Traceability is crucial to ensure that force measurements by AFM are comparable to those made by optical tweezers and other methods. The new non-contact calibration method measures the spring constant of these artefacts, by a combination of electrical measurements and Doppler velocimetry. The device was fabricated by silicon surface micromachining. The device allows AFM cantilevers to be calibrated quite easily by the 'cantilever-on-reference' method, with our reference device having a spring constant uncertainty of around ±5% at one standard deviation. A simple substitution of the analogue velocimeter used in this work with a digital model should reduce this uncertainty to around ±2%. Both are significant improvements on current practice, and allow traceability to the SI for the first time at these nanonewton levels.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Cumpson PJ, Hedley J

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Nanotechnology

Year: 2003

Volume: 14

Issue: 12

Pages: 1279-1288

Print publication date: 01/12/2003

ISSN (print): 0957-4484

ISSN (electronic): 1361-6528

Publisher: Institute of Physics Publishing


DOI: 10.1088/0957-4484/14/12/009


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