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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.

Professor Helms and her students use the atomic force microscope in their research in nanofiber mechanics.  They study the modulus, extensibility and viscoelastic properties of synthetic and natural nanofibers in an effort to gain understanding of their biological applications.

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-BIO which is worth $200,000, was purchased with a grant from the Kresge Foundation.