We demonstrate a method to control the distance between a custom probe and a sample on a μm to nm scale. The method relies on the closed-loop feedback on the angular deflection of an in-contact AFM microcantilever. High performance in stability and accuracy is achieved in this method by taking advantage of the small mechanical feedback path between surface and probe. We describe how internal error sources that find their origin in the microcantilever and feedback can be minimized to achieve an accurate and precise control up to 3 nm. In particular, we investigated how hysteresis effects in the feedback caused by friction forces between tip and substrate can be minimized. By applying a short calibration procedure, distance control from contact to several micrometers probe-sample distance can be obtained with an absolute nanometer-scale accuracy. The method presented is compatible with any probe that can be fixed on a microcantilever chip and can be easily built into existing AFM systems.

Rev. Sci. Instrum.

Molenaar, R., Prangsma, J. C., van der Werf, K. O., Bennink, M. L., Blum, C., & Subramaniam, V. (2015). Microcantilever based distance control between a probe and a surface. Rev. Sci. Instrum., 86(Article number: 63706), 1–8. doi:10.1063/1.4922885