Many of today's high-tech products rely on nano-level functional structures, and in products such as mobile phones, integrated circuits and glasses they have already become commonplace. But with increasing demands on products and their quality, tiny structures and the ability to evaluate them are also becoming decisive factors for the production of everyday products. The experience of a ball-point pen maker shows how atomic force microscopy enables highly accurate quality control during manufacturing, eliminating entire production steps in the process. Everyone has had to contend with scratchy or messy ball-point pens, but not everyone knows that often this malfunction is the result of a manufacturing error: smooth writing depends largely on the roughness of the sphere at the tip of the pen. Its roughness needs to lie in a well-defined interval: too rough, and the pen leaks; too smooth, and it scratches and fails to transport enough ink. The roughness of this little sphere thus becomes the decisive quality indicator of the entire writing apparatus.
Over the past decade, Atomic Force/Scanning Probe Microscopy (AFM/SPM) has emerged as the leading tool for investigations at the nanoscale - doing everything from imaging, to compositional differentiation, to explorations of molecular forces. But aside from some interesting tweaks, add-ons and repackaging, the field has seen no fundamentally new instruments for several years. For the extremely high-resolution AFM/SPMs, there has literally been no completely new microscope for well over a decade. Enter the new Cypher AFM. Cypher was designed from the ground up with a host of new features and unmatched performance enabled by its revolutionary new design.
In today's addition to our Application Note series we are looking at the future of electronics and the implications for research instrumentation. We are showing two examples of atomic force microscope (AFM) applications employed in this research. Current CMOS (complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor) technology used for making integrated circuits is constantly being scaled down. These devices will reach their ultimate physical limits in 10 to 15 years. As chip structures - which currently already have reached nanoscale dimensions - continue to shrink below the 20 nanometer mark, ever more complex challenges arise and scaling appears not to be economically feasible any more. And below 10 nm, the fundamental physical limits of CMOS technology will be reached. Researchers are therefore exploring novel concepts for future nanoelectronic devices.
Traditional techniques in cell biology involve chemical or pharmaceutical treatments of entire cells; however, in many cases it would be advantageous to target a single organelle or other structure within a cell without damaging overall cell structure. If scientists could inject a drug into a chosen organelle within the cell, or even destroy, extract or isolate the whole organelle without significantly harming the cell itself, new insight could be gained into the inner workings of the cell. In recent years, techniques have been developed which allow the manipulation of the individual nanoscale structures within biological cells. This manipulation, or 'nanosurgery', has the potential to provide new insight into the internal structure and dynamics of cells. Nanosurgical methods have been developed to target the cell's internal organelles, the cell membrane, and the structural protein filaments within the cell.
Today, in our Application Note series, we are covering Scanning Thermal Microscopy (SThM) - an atomic force microscopy (AFM) imaging mode that maps changes in thermal conductivity across a sample's surface. Similar to other modes that measure material properties, SThM data is acquired simultaneously with topographic data. The SThM mode is made possible by replacing the standard contact mode cantilever with a nanofabricated thermal probe with a resistive element near the apex of the probe tip. This resistor is incorporated into one leg of a Wheatstone bridge circuit, which allows the system to monitor resistance. This resistance correlates with temperature at the end of the probe, and the Wheatstone bridge may be configured to either monitor the temperature of a sample or to qualitatively map the thermal conductivity of the sample.
The folks at the European NanoHand project, whose nanogripper design we have covered in a previous Nanowerk Spotlight, seem to have loved playing with their plastic toy kits as kids. At least that's the impression you get when watching their latest video explaining their proof-of-principle study of scanning probe tips defined by planar nanolithography and integrated with AFM probes using nanomanipulation. They have prefabricated nanoscale needles, to be picked up by nanogrippers inside a scanning electron microscope. They then use these nanobits as ultralong tips in atomic force microscopes. The researchers call the needles 'nanobits' because they are a reminder of drill bits - you can have a library of different nanobits and then pick the one you want, and mount it where you want it.
Ferroelectric domain patterns attract increasing attention owing to their potential for integrated optical and novel electronic applications. Lately, Piezoresponse Force Microscopy (PFM) has become a standard technique for the investigation of such domain patterns due to the high lateral resolution of only about 10 nm even - so no specific sample preparation is needed. In addition, due to the frequency modulated PFM technique for recording ferroelectric domains, topography and domain patterns can be recorded simultaneously and independently. Piezoresponse force microscopy is based on the deformation of the sample due to the converse piezoelectric effect. Generally, all scanning force microscopes are suited for PFM operation as long as they allow application of voltages to the tip and separate readout of the cantilever movement.
A Japanese-UK research team has now demonstrated that cryoEM image analysis may be exploited to obtain structural information of sufficient resolution to reveal the absolute three-dimensional (3D) configuration of a designed DNA nanostructure. With their technique they have obtained structural information at sufficient resolution to visualize the DNA helix and reveal the absolute stereochemistry of a self-assembled DNA tetrahedron. Each edge is a 7 nm, 20 base pair duplex, and the edges are connected covalently through single unpaired adenosine nucleotides, making it a rigid, triangulated structure that could serve as a building block for larger 3D structures or as a molecular cage. This DNA tetrahedron is the smallest 3D nanostructure made by DNA self-assembly.