Atomic force microscopy (AFM) or scanning force microscopy (SFM) is a very high-resolution type of scanning probe microscopy, with demonstrated resolution on the order of fractions of a nanometer, AFM provides a 3D profile of the surface on a nanoscale, by measuring forces between a sharp probe (<10 nm) and surface at very short distance (0.2-10 nm probe-sample separation). The probe is supported on a flexible cantilever. The AFM tip “gently” touches the surface and records the small force between the probe and the surface.
The AFM measures the forces acting between a fine tip and a sample. The tip is attached to the free end of a cantilever, The cantilever is typically silicon or silicon nitride with a tip radius of curvature on the order of nanometres and it is brought very close to a surface. Attractive or repulsive forces resulting from interactions between the tip and the surface will cause a positive or negative bending of the cantilever. The bending is detected by means of a laser beam, which is reflected from the back side of the cantilever. The figure shows the basic concept of AFM.