I was recently asked what equipment is necessary to set up a new AFM lab, so here goes:
Materials necessary to set up a new AFM lab
Note: Many manufacturers include a lot of these items when you buy an instrument; check before ordering. I have only included estimated prices for items with high cost.
1. Calibration/certification product. Usually a silicon grid with repeating features. See extensive list of suppliers here:
SPM References and Standards
Note: This is the most expensive item, but absolutely necessary. The importance of calibration is discussed in my book (especially Appendices A and B). Take care of your calibration artifact once you have it.
Estimated cost: 300-1000 dollars, depending on model and supplier. Traceable standards will be more expensive.
2. Cantilevers / Probes. Of course these are necessary for all work. You typically get a few with a system, and can also beg samples from manufacturers, but you will need more, and soon! See extensive list of suppliers here:
Where to buy : SPM Probes
Estimated cost: 300 dollars for a box of 20
3. Anti-vibration solution. There are many different types of vibration-damping equipment, see chapter 2 of my book. They can usually be bought with instruments, but at additional cost. Suitable vibration / acoustic isolation stages for AFM instruments can cost from 2,000 to 10,000 dollars.
4. Tweezers. These are important for handling samples, and handling probes. I recommend two types, specific AFM probe-handling levers with specially shaped ends, and type 2A (flat, rounded ends, preferably non-magnetic), for handling samples and sample mounting discs.
I often buy from Ted Pella, see here for probe tweezers, and here for type 2A, but most microscopy suppliers carry these, or some equivalent. Note: on a budget, type 2A also can be used for probes, but I highly recommend that you keep a clean pair of tweezers, especially for handling probes.
5. Sample mounting discs. These are simply magnetic steel discs of about 10-15 mm diameter, and 1 mm thick. You can even make them yourself. Most microscopy suppliers sell them in tubes of 50-100. See here for the ones at Ted Pella.
6. Sample mounting adhesive tabs. To stick your sample onto the metal discs (above). See here for example at SPI. Alternatively, can be easily replaced with double sided sticky tape with few problems.
7. A source of very clean water. Some labs use milliQ water, and this is fine for most work, but you can also find ultra-pure bottled water, which I mostly use. See chapter 4 of my book.
8. A source of clean gas. Used for removing dust from samples. At a pinch you can use a “blower”, like this: Rocket Air Blaster.
9. Adhesive for when double-sided sticky tape is not enough: 2 part epoxy is the gold standard, superglue (cyanoacrylate) can also be used, but not for work in liquids.
10. Solvents for cleaning, etc.
11. Optical microscope and / or magnifier. Usually AFMs have an integrated optical scope, that can be used to obtain optical images of the sample. Depending on your application, and how good the attached scope is, you may want a separate optical microscope to view samples before putting them in the microscope and possibly to record good optical images. This can help greatly with sample preparation. It is also VERY useful to have a magnifier or small microscope to help with probe seating, i.e. to make sure your probe chip still has a cantilever and that you have placed it in the probe holder of the AFM correctly.
12. Other susbstrates. Depending n the kind of work you need to do, you will want substrates to deposit your samples on. These might be optical glass slides, coverslips, mica, or HOPG. flat silicon samples can also be useful. Most AFMs work with 1cm diameter samples or smaller.
Instrument Building / Repair / Diagnostics
For this, you’ll also want many small tools, including Allen (hex) keys, screwdrivers, etc. Glue, including superglue. Multimeter. Good soldering iron and solder, preferably silver solder with a flux core.
For the room you are going to put the AFM in, there are not many real “must-haves”. But it’s recommended you use a small lab, with little foot traffic, or at least one where the people can be expected to keep quiet. Basement labs are preferred to upper stories. These are all due to vibration and acoustic noise issues. It’s useful to have air-conditioning, especially if you expect to have large temperature variations during the day. But you must be able to turn this off in case it interferes with high-resolution work.
As always, suggestions and additions to this are welcome - go HERE for the contact form.