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Laser-Guided Tip Approach With 3D Registration to a Surface



Laboratory: National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

Technology: Atomic scale, precise, three-dimensional, real-time localization of a probe tip and a sample surface

Description: In atomic force microscopy (AMF), it is not possible to reliably exchange tips and return to the same nanoscale feature. This is exacerbated by samples that lack variation in surface height. This invention demonstrates that individual nanoscale objects can be successfully imaged by the same tip after retraction and reapproach, as well as after an exchange of tips. Finally, different types of tips can be exchanged and the same feature imaged and reimaged. This automated, high-speed technique is suitable for atomic-scale manufacturing or research. Sharp objects such as tips can be moved to a specified location on a surface with high precision and accuracy in three dimensions. Beams from one or more lasers detect tips and sample positions using light scattering from fiducial marks on each surface. Samples and/or tips, mounted on moveable stages, are programmed for rapid, precise movement. Optical signals from both beams guide the tip-surface approach at the sub-nanometer level.

NIST has introduced a technique that allows sharp objects (e.g., scanning tunneling microscope tips, atomic force microscope tips, near-field scanning optical microscope tips, pipette tips, etc.) to be rapidly brought into close proximity to a particular region of a surface with high precision and accuracy in three dimensions. The method has potential applications in a broad array of tip-based research instrumentation and manufacturing techniques, including: scanning probe microscopy, atomic force microscopy, proximal probe lithography, dip-pen lithography, tip-indent lithography, molecule array manufacturing, and single atom manipulation. In a typical atomic force microscope, the course approach between tip and sample is achieved via a translation by a long range (0.1-1000 microns) stage followed by a fine stage movement (0.1-1000 nm); if the surface is not found, this process is repeated. Often, optical microscopes are used to aid in this process. Prior art does not allow registered tip approach due to the lack of a reliable method to yield precise three-dimensional simultaneous localization of a tip and a sample surface. This knowledge is necessary to bring these objects into close proximity or contact with high resolution registration and speed.


  • Tip-based research instrumentation
  • Lithography and other manufacturing techniques


  • Applicable for any atomic scale tip-based research or manufacturing technique
  • Rapid precision manufacturing
  • Tip substitution

Opportunity: Available for licensing

Contact: Jack Pevenstein, Technology Partnership Office

View the original listing at NISTTech.

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