In situ Stiffness adjustment of AFM probes by two orders of magnitude

Marcel de Laat, Hugo Perez Garza, Murali Ghatkesar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
39 Downloads (Pure)


The choice on which type of cantilever to use for Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) depends on the type of the experiment being done. Typically, the cantilever has to be exchanged when a different stiffness is required and the entire alignment has to be repeated. In the present work, a method to adjust the stiffness in situ of a commercial AFM cantilever is developed. The adjustment is achieved by changing the effective length of the cantilever by electrostatic pull-in. By applying a voltage between the cantilever and an electrode (with an insulating layer at the point of contact), the cantilever snaps to the electrode, reducing the cantilever’s effective length. An analytical model was developed to find the pull-in voltage of the system. Subsequently, a finite element model was developed to study the pull-in behavior. The working principle of this concept is demonstrated with a proof-of-concept experiment. The electrode was positioned close to the cantilever by using a robotic nanomanipulator. To confirm the change in stiffness, the fundamental resonance frequency of the cantilever was measured for varying electrode positions. The results match with the theoretical expectations. The stiffness was adjusted in situ in the range of 0.2 N/m to 27 N/m, covering two orders of magnitude in one single cantilever. This proof-of-concept is the first step towards a micro fabricated prototype, that integrates the electrode positioning system and cantilever that can be used for actual AFM experiments.
Original languageEnglish
Article number523
Number of pages10
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • stiffness
  • adjustable stiffness
  • stiffness tuning
  • AFM
  • Atomic Force Microscope
  • OA-Fund TU Delft

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