nGauge: the world's smallest, simplest, and most affordable Atomic Force Microscope
The nGauge Atomic Force Microscope (AFM) is the culmination of nearly 10 years of research and development at the University of Waterloo in Canada, with the support of DARPA. CMOS MEMS technology has been used to integrate all of the essential components of an AFM — the fine XYZ movement, and the nanoscale sensing — onto a single 1 mm x 1 mm chip. This removes the need for bulky high power control electronics and laser alignment for vertical detection. This miniaturization has led to many benefits, including vibration immunity, higher speed and precision, lower drift, and significantly lower cost. Our goal is to make nanotechnology tools accessible to everyone.
“The ICSPI nGauge AFM has to be seen in action to be believed! We were quite skeptical that a small University based start-up could develop such a miniature and low cost tool that outperforms many commercial instruments that cost 10-100 times more and occupy 10-50 times more space. After seeing a live demo of the nGauge in action we had to have one. We have been using the nGauge for the last several months in regular day to day production verification and quality control and have been blown away by its performance, ease of use and portability. The tool easily saves us several thousand dollars a month in AFM usage fees at third party labs, while giving the added benefit of having AFM capabilities in house and on-demand. Beyond the use of the nGauge as a research tool we are also keenly excited for its potential to integrate into inline production monitoring for process control, a capability that has never been possible before.” - Dr. Michael Helander, CEO OTI Lumionics
"The nGauge system is more compact than a conventional AFM, making it possible to perform nanometer-scale metrology in tight spaces or directly on top of large samples. These tools may find many applications in manufacturing environments." - Dr. Zoran Jandric, Research Staff, Seagate Research
“I have worked with ICSPI and their MEMS-based AFM technology for almost two years now and I can attest that that this technology is extremely reliable and can produce images that rival much larger and more expensive AFM systems. I believe that this technology has the potential to revolutionize in-line process metrology by allowing us to directly integrate AFMs into a wide variety of semiconductor manufacturing tools.” - Professor Michael Cullinan, University of Texas at Austin
|Max Scan Area||20 × 20 µm
30 × 10 µm
60 × 0 µm (line scan)
|Min Scan Area||1 × 1 µm|
|Z Scanner Range||10 µm|
|Scan Speed||0.15 seconds per line|
|Resonant Frequency||9 kHz|
|Mode of Operation||Tapping Mode (Non-contact)|
|Vertical resolution (dynamic RMS noise)||<1 nm|
|Tip Radius||<80 nm|
|System Dimensions||70 × 90 × 75 mm L×W×H|
|Sample Stage Area||70 × 42 mm|
|Normal max. sample size||100 mm × 50 mm × 16 mm L×W×H|
|Z Stage Travel||20 mm|
|System Weight||450 g|
|OS Requirements||Windows, OS X|
|Power Supply||7.5 VDC|
+ How is nGauge different from a conventional AFM?
nGauge AFM chips are tiny moving machines called MEMS. These microscopic devices have moving parts capable of positioning an integrated tip with high precision in the X, Y, and Z directions. The AFM chips also integrate a piezoresistive sensor for measuring tip-sample interaction forces. Conventional AFMs use individual external X, Y, and Z piezoelectric scanners to position a separate tip using an external laser sensing system. See our Intro Blog or our Scaling Blog for more details.
+ How long does a tip last?
It's difficult to pinpoint the lifetime of a tip. The tips have been shown to last for over 10,000 images on the same sample without visible wear. The number of approaches and the resolution of the scans, will affect the lifetime. More details can be found in this blog.
+ How do you replace the tip?
Unlike conventional AFMs where you would replace only the tip when it breaks or wears out, single-chip AFMs are fully integrated but designed to be disposable. If the chip were to break, simply swap the AFM chip out for a new one. This means that every time you replace the chip you get a brand new tip as well as fresh scanners and sensors. As new breakthroughs in chip design occur, you will always be able to stay up to date with the latest improvements in tip shape, scan range, scanner linearity, and sensor performance.
+ How much does it cost to replace the tip?
A new nGauge AFM chip costs $250, but they can be bought in packs of six ($225 each) or twelve ($200 each). Contact us for volume pricing.
+ What scanning modes are available?
The AFM operates in intermittent-contact (tapping) mode. This yields topography, phase, and error images. However, the manufacturing process used to make these AFM chips allows for the design of a large variety of exotic SPM modes. We already have some results for SThM, SMM, KPFM, and FM-AFM, and all chips have a conductive path to the tip which could support electrical sensing modes. Contact us if you are interested in other modes.
+ How fast does it scan?
Relatively flat samples allow scan speeds of up to 16Hz, meaning a 256x256 pixel image will take 16 seconds. Larger sample features require a larger controller effort and more time. A 256x256 pixel image of a typical DVD sample (100nm tall features on a 750nm pitch) takes about 2 minutes.
+ Can I image in liquid or vacuum?
These modes are not supported yet. Contact us if you are interested in these modes.
+ Can the nGauge generate force-distance curves?
The nGauge operates in tapping mode (a non-contact mode) only, which means that force-distance curves cannot be generate directly. However, the nGauge can generate amplitude-distance and phase-distance curves, which can be used to reconstruct force-distance curves. A paper by Hu and Raman explains the process: Inverting amplitude and phase to reconstruct tip–sample interaction forces in tapping mode atomic force microscopy by Hu and Raman (2008) (https://stacks.iop.org/Nano/19/375704) Contact us if you are interested in generating force-distance curves.
+ Can I perform nanoindentation studies with the nGauge?
The nGauge operates in tapping mode (a non-contact mode) only so it cannot be used to perform nanoindentation, which requires contact mode operation. Contact us if you are interested in keeping up to date with our progress.
+ Do you ship internationally?
Yes we do. Please contact us for exact shipping fees.