Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM)

Also known as Scanning Probe Microscopy (SPM), Scanning Force Microscopy (SFM)

Atomic-force microscopy (AFM) or scanning-force microscopy (SFM) is a type of scanning probe microscopy (SPM), with demonstrated resolution on the order of fractions of a nanometer, more than 1000 times better than the optical diffraction limit. The information is gathered by “feeling” or “touching” the surface with a nano-engineered probe. Piezoelectric elements that facilitate tiny but accurate and precise movements on (electronic) command enable very precise scanning.


Thin films development, semiconductors, MEMS, optical components, coatings, piezoelectric materials, magnetic materials.

Atomic Force Microscopy for Advanced Optical Components:

Read White Paper

Covalent has the following capabilities:

AFM Modes Sample Typical data Typical Turnaround Time
Contact AFM All types Surface topography, 3D mapping, Ra, Rq < 48h
Tapping Mode AFM All types Surface topography, 3D mapping, Ra, Rq, phase imaging < 48h
Electrostatic (EFM) Composite Metal, Semiconductor films Local charge distribution < 48h
Magnetic (MFM) Magnetic films Magnetic domain structure, magnetization hysteresis, magnetic coercive field < 48h
Piezo response (PFM) Piezo materials, MEMS Piezo domain structure, polarization vector and switching, ferroelectric coercive field < 48h
Peak Force AFM Thin film Roughness, Surface topography < 48h
Peak Force Quantitative Nanomecanical (QNM) Polymer Coating Mechanical properties (adhesion, modulus and dissipation), Phase imaging, Polymer domains < 48h
Kelvin Probe (AM-KPFM) Thin films, Semiconductors Surface potential, work function < 48h
Scanning Capacitance (SCM) Semiconductor films films Dopant profile, relative capacitance < 48h


  • Topography and surface quality: complete 3D model of sample’s surface with a sub-nanometer lateral resolution and sub-Å vertical resolution.​
    • full 3D/2D topography
    • roughness (Ra, Rq)
    • step height
    • cross sections
    • particle counts
    • defect analysis
  • Mechanical characterization and phase mapping: adhesion, modulus and dissipation
  • Magnetic domains, magnetization hysteresis, magnetic coercive field.
  • Surface potential and work function.
  • Piezoelectric domains, polarization vector and switching, ferroelectric coercive field.
  • Electrostatic gradients, capacitance variations.

Uses & Limitations:

  • What it is great for:
    • Quantified topography/ roughness of very smooth samples
    • Best z resolution
    • Surface imaging of insulating samples with no extra sample prep
    • High definition functional properties mapping (mechanical, electric, magnetic, piezo)
    • Imaging topography of samples in liquid
    • defect analysis
  • Limitations:
    • Requires expertise for reliable results, even on seemingly easy samples
    • No compositional mapping available

Example Outputs

Optical Flat Surface (AFM height sensor – 3D render): AFM reveals very fine scratches on this highly polished surface.

Height Sensor

Freshly cleaved graphite (AFM height sensor – 2D render, 3D render below): atomic steps are visible on this scan.


Bruker Nano Dimension (Icon and FastScan heads)

AFM in Cleanroom