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An important factor in the success of the surface force apparatus (SFA) in measuring interactions between surfaces over nanometer separations has been the optical interference technique used to measure the surface separation. Until recently, this technique has only been used when both of the materials are transparent. As a result, thin sheets of mica have been the material of choice. We describe a simple method to extend the capabilities of the SFA so that a wide variety of material surfaces can be studied while retaining an optical measurement technique. The key to this technique is to modify the optics so that reflected, rather than transmitted, light is used to produce the interference pattern. Now, only one material is required to be thin and transparent while the other can be any material providing it is at least partially reflective. To succeed with this technique, it is necessary to maximize the visibility of the interference fringes. This is achieved by optimizing the thickness of a partially reflective coating (often silver) deposited on the back side of the transparent material. © 2003 American Institute of Physics.