CO-AFM - Cheap Open source Atomic Force Microscope

The design of a low cost, quasi nano-scale, Atomic Force Microscope (AFM), using 3d printing and open-source software.

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The Atomic Force Microscope (AFM) was invented in the mid 1980's. The AFM permits the observation of matter down to the nano-meter scale. With the AFM one is capable of directly observing and manipulating matter down to the single atom. It operates, in principle, very similar to a record player with a needle that is moved over the surface of the object and its vibration used in the representation of the data. A major difference is the use of a cantilever that amplifies the movement of this needle. Using a laser light source and a positional photo-diode it is capable of taking measurements as the specimen is moved under the needle. These measurements are later processed by a computer and represented in a graphical form. AFM devices, however are still very expensive and out of the reach of many people.

The aim of this project is to make Atomic force microscopy imaging more affordable. This way many more people can explore the micro-world that lays hidden in plain sight.

The project will consist of 3 main subsystems, an anti-vibration platform on which the microscope will sit, the microscope assembly that will consist of a two axis moving bed and a moving probe, and the electronics and software that will coordinate and manage all.

  • 1 × Akiyama Probe This is used with the AFM used in dynamic mode. With the akiyama probe control electronics needed are increased however the hardware build complexity is slightly reduced as there is no need for the laser and 4 quadrant diode.
  • 3 × Geared Nema 8 motors These are highly geared so that the degrees per step of the motor is very low. This allows for fine movements.
  • 3 × Linear threaded shafts from old cd-rom assemblies These are used for the linear translation of the rotational motion produced by the stepper motors.
  • 4 × Syringe Used as an air shock absorber to eliminate the external vibrations.
  • 1 × FPGA I am using an old altera cyclone 2 which I had on hand. I also have a Xilinx Spartan 3E on hand and will use the most suitable.

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  • Preliminary Testing

    Edward Borg08/20/2014 at 12:09 1 comment

    Testing the movement resolution with the current linear threads obtained from the CD-Rom drives. Have decided to order 254 tpi adjustment screws which should offer much better resolution since currently the linear threads are around 2 to 4 tpi. These will allow for sub micron positioning possibly even reaching the nano scale without the use of the piezo tranlation stage which should then take over.

  • Ordering the Business End

    Edward Borg08/20/2014 at 04:30 0 comments

    Ordered an Akiyama Probe that is a self exciting probe which will not require the use of a light system in order to get the surface structure data. This will relate the surface structure data since the probe will be oscillating at a set frequency and by means of a PLL any shift in phase caused by the interaction with the surface structure will be recorded.

    More details about akiyama probes can be found at:-

  • Disassembling CD-Rom drives

    Edward Borg08/20/2014 at 04:15 0 comments

    Disassembled 3 old CD-Roms I collected from the scrap in order to source linear threaded shafts that can be used for the x, y and z translations in the AFM. Combined with the steppers that have a large gear ratio and low degree of rotation per step this should provide decent resolution.

  • Parts start arriving

    Edward Borg08/18/2014 at 10:27 0 comments

    The stepper motors for the coarse movement of the x, y and z axis have arrived from omcstepperonline. Can't wait for the rest of the parts to arrive.

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abetusk wrote 08/15/2015 at 13:49 point

How much was the Akiyama probe?

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triplefunny wrote 04/02/2015 at 12:28 point

Very good project. I am interested in it.

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David Preece wrote 08/02/2014 at 22:49 point
I remember a mate from uni getting to work with one of these when she did her masters. Seemed like magic then, still does now :)

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PointyOintment wrote 07/28/2014 at 17:30 point

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Edward Borg wrote 07/28/2014 at 21:40 point
Cheers. I had come across that AFM already, however my aim is to have something closer to the conventional units, with a higher resolution. As you say that project is not wholly OS too. I intend to use Gwyddion or Scilab to process the data and represent it in graphical format. All control software and stl files for 3d printed parts will be available for all online and all hardware used will be documented with sources and prices, where possible.

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zuul wrote 07/27/2014 at 22:57 point
lol if you can pull this off..

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Edward Borg wrote 07/28/2014 at 14:02 point
Thanks. Will definitely try my utmost :)

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Wenchao Zhou wrote 03/10/2016 at 19:12 point

Are you still working on it, considering it has been over a year and a half now. 

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