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

Atomic force microscopy (AFM) measures the surface topography of materials in which an oscillating cantilever with a sharp protruding tip makes intermittent contact with the surface. The resolution is sub-nanometer in height and 3-10 nanometer in lateral dimensions.

AFM is an exceptional technique for measuring surface roughness, step height, and particle size distribution. The fast-scan capabilities image 10x faster than traditional AFMs, which is ideal for scanning large wafers. Advanced imaging modes offer additional information toward the properties of the materials such as, adhesion, modulus, charge distribution, work function, and magnetic domains.

Atomic Force Microscopy AFM


Thin films development, semiconductors, MEMS, optical components, coatings, piezoelectric materials, and magnetic materials are common uses of AFM services.

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Atomic Force Microscopy for Advanced Optical Components


AFM Modes Sample Typical data Typical Turnaround Time
Contact AFM All types Surface topography, 3D mapping, roughness < 48h
Tapping Mode AFM All types Surface topography, 3D mapping, roughness, 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
Piezoresponse (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 Nanomechanical (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


  • Topography and surface quality: Complete 3D model of a sample’s surface with sub-Å vertical resolution and lateral resolution on the nanometer to sub-nanometer scale.
    • Full 3D/2D topography
    • Roughness (Ra, Rq)
    • Step height
    • Profile slices
    • Cross-sections
    • Particle counts
    • Defect Analysis
  • Mechanical characterization and phase mapping: adhesion, modulus and dissipation
  • Magnetic domains, magnetization hysteresis, and magnetic coercive field.
  • Surface potential and work function.
  • Piezoelectric domains, polarization vector and switching, and ferroelectric coercive field.
  • Electrostatic gradients and capacitance variations.

Uses & Limitations of AFM:

  • What our AFM services are 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
    • Z-resolution: 1 Å
    • Scan range is limited to 90 x 90 microns in X,Y and 5 microns in Z.
    • Sample size is limited to 300 x 300 mm
    • Results are often qualitative

Related Techniques:

Depending on the exact problem you are trying to solve and data desired, potential related techniques are:

Our technical team is happy to clarify on what technique will provide you with the best data.


Atomic Steps of Epitaxial Silicon: Tapping Mode AFM, 3D render

AFM 3D Image of Steel Bearing
AFM 3D Image of Steel Bearing

Tapping Mode Topography (left) and KPFM (right) on ITO showing variations in surface potential.

KPFM can measure the work function of thin film surfaces as well as resolve minute differences in the surface potential using lift mode to remove topographic contributions.

Quantitative Nano-mechanical Microscopy of Carbon Fiber Encapsulated in Epoxy

  • Carbon fibers are apparently softer than the surrounding epoxy matrix.
  • Log DMT Modulus shows the fibers brighter (more resilient) than the more firm surroundings.
  • The deformation channel shows the tip compressing the fiber ends on the order of 2 nm.

Electrostatic Force Microscopy of Titanium Carbide- Alumina Surface

  • Topography image on the left shows the higher TiC grains suspended in the Al2O3 matrix.
  • The EFM or phase image shows differences in the electrical attraction of the tip to the TiC grains and the alumina.
AFM Topographic Height Image


The Tosca AFM from Anton Paar uniquely combines premium technology with time-efficient operation, making this AFM a perfect nanotechnology analysis tool for scientists and industrial users alike.

JupiterXR from Oxford Instruments Asylum Research

The Jupiter XR Atomic Force Microscope from Oxford Instruments Asylum Research is the first and only large-sample AFM to offer both high-speed imaging and extended range in a single scanner. Jupiter provides complete 200 mm sample access and delivers higher resolution, faster results, a simpler user experience, and the versatility to excel in both academic research and industrial R&D laboratories.

  • Higher resolution than any other large-sample AFM

  • Extended range 100 μm scanner is 5-20× faster than most other AFMs

  • From setup to results, every step is simpler and faster

  • Modular design adapts to your needs for maximum flexibility


Bruker Nano Dimension (Icon and FastScan heads)