Harnessing the damping properties of materials for high-speed atomic force microscopy
The success of high-speed atomic force microscopy in imaging molecular motors1, enzymes2 and microbes3 in liquid environments suggests that the technique could be of significant value in a variety of areas of nanotechnology. However, the majority of atomic force microscopy experiments are performed in air, and the tapping-mode detection speed of current highspeed cantilevers is an order of magnitude lower in air than in liquids. Traditional approaches to increasing the imaging rate of atomic force microscopy have involved reducing the size of the cantilever4,5, but further reductions in size will require a fundamental change in the detection method of the microscope6–8. Here, we show that high-speed imaging in air can instead be achieved by changing the cantilever material. We use cantilevers fabricated from polymers, which can mimic the high damping environment of liquids. With this approach, SU-8 polymer cantilevers are developed that have an imaging-in-air detection bandwidth that is 19 times faster than those of conventional cantilevers of similar size, resonance frequency and spring constant.