Fast and reliable pre-approach for scanning probe microscopes based on tip-sample capacitance

J. M. de Voogd, M. A. van Spronsen, F. E. Kalff, B. Bryant, O. Ostojić, A. M.J. den Haan, I.M.N. Groot, T. H. Oosterkamp, A. F. Otte, M. J. Rost*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
32 Downloads (Pure)


Within the last three decades Scanning Probe Microscopy has been developed to a powerful tool for measuring surfaces and their properties on an atomic scale such that users can be found nowadays not only in academia but also in industry. This development is still pushed further by researchers, who continuously exploit new possibilities of this technique, as well as companies that focus mainly on the usability. However, although imaging has become significantly easier, the time required for a safe approach (without unwanted tip-sample contact) can be very time consuming, especially if the microscope is not equipped or suited for the observation of the tip-sample distance with an additional optical microscope. Here we show that the measurement of the absolute tip-sample capacitance provides an ideal solution for a fast and reliable pre-approach. The absolute tip-sample capacitance shows a generic behavior as a function of the distance, even though we measured it on several completely different setups. Insight into this behavior is gained via an analytical and computational analysis, from which two additional advantages arise: the capacitance measurement can be applied for observing, analyzing, and fine-tuning of the approach motor, as well as for the determination of the (effective) tip radius. The latter provides important information about the sharpness of the measured tip and can be used not only to characterize new (freshly etched) tips but also for the determination of the degradation after a tip-sample contact/crash.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)61-69
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Capacitance measurements
  • Coarse approach
  • Nano-positioning
  • Scanning probe microscope
  • Scanning tunneling microscope
  • Stepping motor

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