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A large selection of probes with spring constant k in the 0.01 N/m - 1000 N/m range are available in AFM. The probes with k < 0.5 N/m are mostly applied in the contact mode studies and the probes with k > 0.2 N/m are used in AFM oscillatory modes. The Si3N4 probes are soft (k = 0.01 – 0.6 N/m) as their triangular or rectangular shape cantilevers can be made rather thin (hundreds of nanometers). Si probes have rectangular cantilevers with 30-60 um width, 100-500 um length and 1-8 um thickness. The limitations in making Si cantilevers thin restrict their k (0.1-1000 N/m) on the low side. The tips of Si probes with 8-15 um in height have the opening angle is ~ 30 degrees, and the apex radius is 5-10 nm are sharper than Si3H4 tips. The Si3N4/Si probes (k = 0.01N/m – 0.5 N/m) having Si3N4 cantilever (0.2–0.6 um thick) with a sharp Si tip can be applied in the contact and oscillatory modes.
Due to complexity of probe names on the market that might confuse the AFM users; we suggest a simplified naming convention for the rectangular Si and Si3N4/Si probes using geometrical parameters of the cantilevers. A common Si probe will be called 125/30/4, where the numbers define the cantilever length, width and thickness (in um). These parameters define a nominal spring constant of the probes.
The probe-sample force interactions in AFM, which are directly related to the probe spring constant and tip geometry, and define the scope of applications that includes the nature of the examined sample and choice of the operational mode and optimal experimental parameters. The estimates of the tip-sample forces in contact and AM modes are given in the files:
Based on these considerations we suggest the sets of probes for use in these modes, which are presented in Table 1 and Table 2.
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