A step change in scanning probe microscopy

nGauge: the world's smallest, simplest, and most affordable Atomic Force Microscope

 

 
 

ICSPI makes the nGauge — the world’s smallest, simplest and most affordable atomic force microscope (AFM). The nGauge is the culmination of nearly 10 years of research and development at the University of Waterloo in Canada with the support of DARPA.

AFMs are one of the most used instruments in measurement at the micro- and nanoscale. AFMs work kind of like a record player by scanning a small probe tip (stylus) across the surface of a material: it collects three-dimensional data of the surface, down to the nanometer. Read more about how AFM works.

A normal AFM requires bulky, high-power control electronics, scanners and sensors that wear out over time, and requires time-consuming laser alignment procedures. ICSPI has integrated all of these components — the fine XYZ scanners and the nanoscale sensors —  onto a single 1 mm x 1 mm chip. Read more about how our technology works.

Miniaturization has many benefits, including: 10–100x lower cost, extremely simple operation, faster operation, greater vibration immunity, unmatched portability, and lower drift (steadier results). Read more about the benefits of small AFMs on our blog.

Our mission at ICSPI is to lower the barriers to entry to nanotechnology by making the tools accessible to everyone.

 

 

 

Trusted by universities, startups, small-medium businesses and the Fortune 500

“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

seagate-stacked-pos-2015.jpg

“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

UT_Austin.jpg
 

 
 

AFM SPECS

Max Scan Area 20 × 20 µm
Min Scan Area 1 × 1 µm
Max Line Scan 60 µm
Z Scanner Range 10 µm
Scan Speed 0.15 seconds per line
Resonant Frequency 9 kHz
Mode of Operation Tapping Mode
Vertical resolution (dynamic RMS noise) <1 nm
Tip Radius <80 nm

SYSTEM SPECS

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
Communication USB
Power Supply 7.5 VDC
ScanAreas.png
 
 

 
 

Meet US for a Demonstration

We are always available for a demo at our office in Kitchener-Waterloo. Contact us for more details.

We also regularly hold workshops and attend conferences. Visit our Events page to see when we’ll be in your city.

If you're not able to visit us or join us for a workshop but you’d like to know if the nGauge is a good fit for your application, please contact us.

 
 
 
 
 

 
 

FAQ

+ 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 exact 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 our blog post on tip wear.

+ 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 chip?

A pack of 12 nGauge AFM chips costs $2400 or $200 each. Smaller quantities can also be purchased on our online store. Contact us for volume pricing.

+ What scanning modes are available?

The nGauge AFM operates in tapping mode. Topography, phase, and error images are produced during a scan.

The manufacturing process used to make nGauge AFM chips allows for the design of a large variety of SPM modes. We have prototypes of scanning thermal microscopy (SThM), scanning microwave microscopy (SMM), Kelvin Probe force microscopy (KPFM), and FM-AFM (frequency-modulation), and all chips have a conductive path to the tip which could support electrical sensing modes. Contact us or sign up to our mailing list if you are interested in other SPM modes.

+ How fast does it scan?

Relatively flat samples allow scan speeds of up to 16 Hz, 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 (100 nm tall features on a 750 nm pitch) takes about 2 minutes.

+ Can I image in liquid or vacuum?

These modes are not supported yet. Sign up to our mailing list or contact us if you are interested in these modes.

+ Can I image graphene or other single-atom materials?

The maximum RMS noise in the vertical direction is 1 nm, so features smaller than 1 nm cannot currently be measured with the nGauge. We are constantly improving the nGauge. Sign up to our mailing list if you would like to keep up to date.

+ 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.