Breakthrough in Single-Chip AFM and Its Application Listen with ReadSpeaker Our expertise

Breakthrough in Single-Chip AFM and Its Application

At present, the atomic force microscope (AFM) is among the most effective imaging techniques used at the nanoscale and sub-nanoscale levels. It is an imaging and measurement method that has become a very important and popular tool for nanoscale research and industrial research and development activities.

The use of AFMs is growing among companies requiring sub-micron images and measurements in areas like product and process development, process monitoring, failure analysis, and applied research. In the semiconductor industry, it is used in quality control and imaging for silicon integrated circuits.

Other major industries like aerospace and automotive use AFM in the development of materials. It is also used in biological research to differentiate cancer cells from normal cells, based on their stiffness. With each passing day, new AFM applications are emerging with an almost unlimited number of potential applications in the field of research.

In the area of industrial applications, AFMs are essential for process development and control applications in advanced technology industries such as data storage, semiconductor, advanced material, polymer, and photonics. As modern manufacturing relies on a diverse range of nanomaterials, high-precision measurement of a sample’s surface topography and chemical composition has become an essential part.


The buzz around the pharmaceutical R&D sector is all about nanotechnology and the impact it has on the major areas of process development, product development, and personalized medicine. With AFM, the characterization of a biologically active molecule selected to be a candidate drug can help in predicting the drug’s behavior in large-scale production and has the potential to save manufacturing costs.


As successfully used in characterizing the morphology, roughness, and mechanical properties of powdered and granulated particles, data generated by AFM are used to correlate with their physicochemical properties.

The use of AFM in materials science had been growing rapidly, especially in wide-ranging applications in biological sciences. They are used to image the topography of soft biological materials in their native environments. It can also be used to probe the mechanical properties of cells and extracellular matrices, including their intrinsic elastic modulus and receptor-ligand interactions.


This approach greatly benefits biological sciences as it allows samples to be imaged in situ in physiological conditions. The AFM has several advantages over electron microscopy in the study of biological materials, including the ability to image in liquid with minimal sample preparation without the need for labeling, fixing, or coating.


Recent advances in AFM have enabled its application in cancer research and diagnosis. Its ability to perform surface imaging and ultrastructural observation of live cells with atomic resolution under near-physiological conditions enables the collection of force spectroscopy information in the study of the mechanical properties of cells. This could potentially be used as a tool for high-resolution research into the ultrastructure and mechanical properties of tumor cells.

AFM, first invented in 1985, consisted of a diamond shard attached to a strip of gold foil. The diamond tip contacted the surface directly, with the interatomic van der Waals forces providing the interaction mechanism. Since then, new microscopes have greatly improved in size, performance, reliability, and speed.


However, conventional AFM still uses a laser beam deflection system, has large external scanners, a complex laser alignment system, minuscule probes to exchange, and a big vibration isolation table. As time passes, the physics of scaling has led to smaller AFM instrumentations that are faster, more immune to vibrations, and more stable.


The compact devices can lead to new applications by easily enabling integration into standard equipment like probe stations, electron microscopes, and assembly lines. It is now possible to place the AFM on the sample instead of the other way around. The complete integration also makes it straightforward to use as there is no longer the need to align with a laser.

After almost a decade of research into microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), Integrated Circuit Scanning Probe Instruments (ICSPI), a spinoff from the University of Waterloo in Canada, has developed the world’s first single-chip AFM.

This technology is being commercialized as a small, simple, and affordable desktop tool called the nGauge AFM. What this means is that nanotechnology is more accessible and enables new applications that require robust, low-cost, and high-speed measurements at the nanometer scale.

Single-chip AFMs’ performance is comparable or even surpasses mid-range traditional AFMs in various aspects. Its smaller size leads to improved vibration immunity, lower drift, and higher scan speeds. The complete integration in MEMS also makes it straightforward to use as there is no laser to align, easy to operate, require minimal training, and vastly shorten the time-to-data.

Breakthrough in Single-Chip AFM and Its Application

DKSH is proud to announce the partnership with ICSPI in bringing this technology to educational, research, and industrial segments in the Asia Pacific region. We will provide marketing, sales, and after-sales services in markets like Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Korea, and Taiwan.

Contact our local DKSH team to book a viewing on this exciting breakthrough AFM solution.


Alan Boey

About the author

Alan Boey has been in the X-ray analytical instrument business for the past 14 years, servicing various industries from minerals and mining, metal manufacturing to electronics and semiconductor businesses. Alan is now engaged with DKSH as a regional product manager for Southeast Asia, specializing in X-ray analytical instruments and providing solutions to fulfill market requirements in material analysis with X-ray diffraction techniques as well as elemental determination via X-ray fluorescence methods.