Atomic Force Microscope
The Department of Physics has a state-of-the-art atomic force microscope, or AFM. By scanning an ultrasharp silicon crystal over the surface of a sample while sensing the atomic-scale forces between the surface and the crystal, the AFM is able to plot the topography of a surface with a precision of better than one nanometer (one millionth of a millimeter). By “tapping” the crystal against the surface, the AFM can also differentiate between hard and soft regions on a sample, giving nanometer-scale information on the composition of a sample.
Professor Trawick and his students use the atomic force microscope for their research in polymer nanotechnology. They study the patterns formed by the aggregation of polymer molecules on a surface. The AFM can be used both for imaging, and for manipulating objects on a surface at the nanometer level. Many physics students start using the atomic force microscope as early as their first year at Richmond. The machine, an Asylum Research model MFP-3D which is worth $200,000, was purchased with a grant from the Kresge Foundation.