AFM Training Course

Course Details

Atomic Force Microscopy/Scanning Probe Microscopy (AFM/SPM)

This overview of AFM/SPM is a practical, hands-on course to teach the principles of operation, basic and advanced imaging modes, and overall capabilities of atomic force microscopy/scanning probe microscopy. In lectures interwoven with labs on a variety of samples, students will learn, understand, and operate state-of-the-art microscopes. Laboratory instruction will take place on AFMs from Bruker and Asylum Research, an Oxford Instruments Company, and NanoSurf. In addition, instruction on a cryotome from Leica will be part of this course.

This AFM/SPM course provides a foundation for students in the operation of atomic force microscopes to understand (and be able to select appropriately) the various modes and how best to operate the microscope by understanding the operating principles. At the end of the course, students will be able to set up an imaging experiment and run basic static and dynamic AFM modes. They will also gain an understanding of the various imaging parameters involved and how to optimize the parameters for best imaging results. Some advanced topics such as advanced imaging modes and simulation capabilities are also covered to provide students with a comprehensive background to the field. Finally, students will learn the various image processing tools available to properly analyze and interpret their images.

Watch the Atomic Force Microscopy for Polymer Characterization and Analysis presentation and access the transcript.


  • Overview of operation: history, hardware, software/image processing
  • Mechanical measurements with AFM: introduction to mechanical properties, phase imaging and associated bistability
  • Force spectroscopy: calibrations, contact mechanicals models, static and dynamic curves
  • Simulation tools for understanding the tip-sample contact
  • Advanced methods for nanomechanical characterization
  • SPM-based optical characterization (Raman, IR methods)
  • SPM for industrial applications (pharmaceutical, semiconductor, energy)

Upon satisfactory completion of this course students are able to:

  • Understand AFM instrumentation theory, set up, and operation, as well as techniques in sample preparation, different modes, how to choose which mode, the parameters needed to run the basic modes successfully, and image processing for analysis and interpretation
  • Given AFM instrumentation and instruction, students set up, mount the sample, align, and operate the instrument successfully
  • Given AFM instrumentation and instruction, student perform the necessary calibrations to quantify the measurements obtained with AFM
  • Given AFM instrumentation and instruction, students operate the AFM in the main modes of contact mode, tapping mode, and force spectroscopy. Students will also understand which mode is appropriate for which type of sample and imaging
  • Students perform appropriate image processing with third-party software in order to properly interpret their images
  • Understand advanced imaging methods, such as multifrequency imaging, and AFM-optical methods, such as AFM-IR and AFM-Raman

This course is intended for students new to atomic force microscopy/scanning probe microscopy or for experienced users who desire additional training. The audience is broad and includes both academic and industrial scientists and engineers, from advanced undergraduates to seasoned professionals, who are interested in learning about AFM and how it can improve their R&D efforts. Students include instrument operators, lab facility managers, materials scientists, technicians, and advanced undergraduates or graduate students.

Based on availablity, students will use:

  • AFMs from Bruker and Asylum Research, an Oxford Instruments Company, and NanoSurf
  • A Leica cryotome

Optional Recommended Text:
Scanning Probe Microscopy in Industrial Applications, edited by Dalia Yablon, Wiley [2013]. $133.

  • Freshman physics background is assumed
  • No prior use of AFM/SPM is required

Students are expected to successfully complete a variety of tasks in the form of hands-on exercises, laboratory exercises, identifications of unknowns, and quizzes. Students are notified at the end of the course whether or not they have successfully completed the requirements of the course based on:

  • 100% Attendance
  • Class participation
  • Completion of all course material
  • Completed and signed student evaluation form

Upon successfully meeting these requirements, a student is awarded a certificate of completion and CEU credits, if available. Those who have not successfully passed the course requirements do not receive a certificate or CEU credits.

Please see our General Policies page for information related to course registration and cancellation.

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