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Scanning Probe Microscopy Overview

Scanning probe microscopy (SPM) takes on different forms depending on the operating environment (ambient, liquid or vacuum), the type of measurement force under investigation (short-range or long-range), and the actuation scheme (mechanical, electrical, magnetic, or optical). SPM is a well-established high-resolution imaging tool. It features frequently in interdisciplinary projects in the fields of nanotechnology and nano-optics, and can be used to address and manipulate nano-objects such as single atoms, single molecules and quantum dots.

Zurich Instruments focuses on instrumentation challenges in SPM, in particular on those related to new modes of operation, new sensors, or fast real-time data acquisition and feedback loops. With instruments covering frequencies from DC to 600 MHz, Zurich Instruments helps SPM specialists to perform time- and frequency-domain data analysis to capture and control complex tip-sample interactions.

As shown in the table below, each instrument platform comes with options that enable an SPM setup to grow with its user's needs: for example, it is possible to synchronize multiple instruments as experiments grow in complexity.

Zurich Instruments serves the SPM community at large by providing integrated solutions with Scienta Omicron for UHV-SPM systems and with Bruker Anasys Instruments for atomic force microscopy infrared-spectroscopy (AFM-IR), and by offering a simple analog and DIO interface to most third-party microscopes through their respective signal access module (SAM). All data internally generated by the lock-in amplifier and PID loops can be captured in the form of multiple images or a triggered data stream through the Data Acquisition (DAQ) module. Four analog auxiliary outputs are available on all instrument platforms for quick and convenient interfacing to the microscope.

Three reasons to use Zurich Instruments in SPM experiments

  • You are free to implement any SPM modes and develop new instrumentation techniques on an existing SPM platform.
  • The highest signal-to-noise ratio or demodulation speed is guaranteed while ensuring the optimization of your chosen experimental configuration.
  • You can explore your parameter space thanks to a wealth of time- and frequency-domain analysis and data acquisition tools.


Frequency range
Sampling rate
DC - 5 MHz
60 MSa/s
DC - 50 MHz
210 MSa/s
DC - 600 MHz
1.8 GSa/s
Best-suited modes
  • Non-contact AFM, FM-AFM
  • Multi-frequency AFM (up to 4
    frequencies or harmonics)
  • Most Kelvin probe force (KPFM) with electrical control only
  • STS, differential spectroscopy measurements
  • Highest sensitivity below 5 MHz
  • Threshold Unit (tip protection)
  • Accurate impedance measurement capability
  • Simultaneous vertical and lateral detection
  • Control of 2 separate actuation schemes
  • Multiple direct sideband analysis
  • Highest data transfer rate
  • Fastest demodulation speed
  • Arbitrary actuation scheme combined with time-domain analysis
Relevant options for SPM
Software and APIs LabOne® software and Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) for Python, C, MATLAB®, LabVIEW and .NET available for all platforms

Browse through our SPM applications pages to read about some of the modes discussed above, and get in touch with us to discuss your application or adaptation requirements. We will be happy to set up remote demonstrations of our instruments in the context of SPM.

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