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Silicon nitride cantilevers with oxidation-sharpened silicon tips for atomic force microscopy

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4 Author(s)
Grow, Randal J. ; Edward L. Ginzton Lab., Stanford Univ., CA, USA ; Minne, S.C. ; Manalis, S.R. ; Quate, Calvin F.

High-resolution atomic force microscopy (AFM) of soft or fragile samples requires a cantilever with a low spring constant and a sharp tip. We have developed a novel process for making such cantilevers from silicon nitride with oxidation-sharpened silicon tips. First, we made and sharpened silicon tips on a silicon wafer. Next, we deposited a thin film of silicon nitride over the tips and etched it to define nitride cantilevers and to remove it from the tips so that they protruded through the cantilevers. Finally, we etched from the back side to release the cantilevers by removing the silicon substrate. We characterized the resulting cantilevers by imaging them with a scanning electron microscope, by measuring their thermal noise spectra, and by using them to image a test sample in contact mode. A representative cantilever had a spring constant of ∼0.06 N/m, and the tip had a radius of 9.2 nm and a cone angle of 36° over 3 μm of tip length. These cantilevers are capable of higher resolution imaging than commercially available nitride cantilevers with oxidation-sharpened nitride tips, and they are especially useful for imaging large vertical features.

Published in:

Microelectromechanical Systems, Journal of  (Volume:11 ,  Issue: 4 )