Atomic Force Microscope On A Chip!

Michael G. Ruppert and colleagues at University of Texas at Dallas, have published an exciting new Atomic Force Microscope – on a chip! [2]  As so often happens, it seems so obvious after someone does it.

The researchers had to overcome many pragmatic challenges to actually make this work, which I really don’t understand. For that matter, I’m no microscopist, so I haven’t a clue what you have to do to prepare a sample, or any of the other details.

What I do understand is that a single chip device will be cheaper, and may lead to incorporation in other devices. (Imagine an AFM in your mobile phone, or your watch.)

But what caught my eye was the juxtaposition with developments in Feynmanian molecular synthesis. As a software guy (and therefore ignorant of both hardware and physics), I have to wonder how close this technology might be to begin able to push atoms around.

A brief web search informs me that there are a variety of direct microscopy techniques. (Rupert et al use ‘tapping mode’.) Even if this chip isn’t designed to shove atoms around, I wonder if it could be made to do so. At least some of the challenge is controlling the process, but that’s software, so I know if can be made to do anything we want.

The point being, of course, that cool as a ‘microscope In your watch’ might be, a molecular factory in every device would be way, way, way cooler.

Awesome!  And who knows what may be possible?

  1. Dexter Johnson, New Paradigm in Microscopy: Atomic Force Microscope on a Chip, in IEEE Spectrum – Nanoclast. 2017.
  2. Michael. G. Ruppert, Anthony G. Fowler, Mohammad. Maroufi, and S. O. Reza. Moheimani, On-Chip Dynamic Mode Atomic Force Microscopy: A Silicon-on-Insulator MEMS Approach. Journal of Microelectromechanical Systems, 26 (1):215-225, 2017.

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