Scanning tunneling microscopy and atomic force microscopy: application to biology and technology

Science  14 Oct 1988:
Vol. 242, Issue 4876, pp. 209-216
DOI: 10.1126/science.3051380


The scanning tunneling microscope (STM) and the atomic force microscope (AFM) are scanning probe microscopes capable of resolving surface detail down to the atomic level. The potential of these microscopes for revealing subtle details of structure is illustrated by atomic resolution images including graphite, an organic conductor, an insulating layered compound, and individual adsorbed oxygen atoms on a semiconductor. Application of the STM for imaging biological materials directly has been hampered by the poor electron conductivity of most biological samples. The use of thin conductive metal coatings and replicas has made it possible to image some biological samples, as indicated by recently obtained images of a recA-DNA complex, a phospholipid bilayer, and an enzyme crystal. The potential of the AFM, which does not require a conductive sample, is shown with molecular resolution images of a nonconducting organic monolayer and an amino acid crystal that reveals individual methyl groups on the ends of the amino acids. Applications of these new microscopes to technology are demonstrated with images of an optical disk stamper, a diffraction grating, a thin-film magnetic recording head, and a diamond cutting tool. The STM has even been used to improve the quality of diffraction gratings and magnetic recording heads.

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