Since its first introduction in the 1980s, atomic force microscopy (AFM) has become a widely-used technique for characterizing a variety of materials surface properties. AFM uses a cantilever with a sharp tip to detect the varying forces as the tip is scanned over a sample surface. Not only does this allow it to build an atomic-scale topographic map of the surface, but it can also reveal information about a wide range of other surface properties, including adhesion, elasticity and conductivity. As such, AFM has been used for a wide range of applications, from analyzing failure in semiconductors and mapping the different components of composite materials to visualizing electrical and chemical processes in battery electrolytes.
This Essential Knowledge Briefing (EKB) provides an introduction to AFM and its materials characterization capabilities. It explains the workings of a typical AFM instrument, including the primary imaging modes, as well as some important secondary modes, and outlines some of the challenges involved in studying organic and inorganic materials. It also explores some of the latest developments and advances in AFM technology and applications.