Measurement at the Atomic Level

July 20 celebrates the birthday of German physicist Gerd Binnig, who was born in 1947.  In 1981, Binnig helped develop the first scanning tunneling microscope.  In 1986, he developed the first atomic force microscope.  That same year, Binnig was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics.

A scanning tunneling microscope operates by measuring electron-level electrical currents between a conducting tip and the surface being examined.  With resolution of 0.1 nanometers by 0.01 nanometers, an STM can view individual atoms.

(A human hair is about 100,000 nanometers in diameter.  A strand of human DNA is about 2.5 nanometers in diameter.  Your fingernails grow about one nanometer every second.)

An atomic force microscope operates by “feeling” the surface being examined with a mechanical probe, using very precise scanning.  An AFM also operates at fractions of a nanometer, with resolution 1,000 times better than the physical limits of optical imaging.

Today, Agilent is one of the world’s leading providers of atomic force microscopes, considered the foremost tool for examining and measuring matter at the nanoscale.  Agilent recently introduced STM and inverted light microscope (ILM) capabilities to its state-of-the art 7500 AFM platform.  Agilent’s AFMs can perform a broad range of studies pertaining to single molecules, cell membranes, DNA, proteins and other life science applications.  In materials science, applications include electrical characterization, graphene studies and polymer studies.

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