The attachment of carbon nanotubes to atomic force microscopy tips using the pick-up method

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In the last 30 years research has shown that the resolution and reproducibility of data acquired using the atomic force microscope (AFM) can be improved through the development of new imaging modes or by modifying the AFM tip. One method that has been explored since the 1990s is to attach carbon nanotubes (CNT) to AFM tips. CNTs possess a small diameter, high aspect ratio, high strength and demonstrate a high degree of wear resistance. While early indications suggested the widespread use of these types of probes would be routine this has not been the case. A number of methods for CNT attachment have been proposed and explored including chemical vapor deposition (CVD), dielectrophoresis and manual attachment inside a scanning electron microscope (SEM). One of the earliest techniques developed is known as the pick-up method and involves adhering CNTs to AFM tips by simply scanning the AFM tip, in tapping mode, across a CNT-covered surface until a CNT attaches to the AFM tip. In this work we will further investigate how, for example, high force tapping mode imaging can improve the stability and success rate of the pick-up method. We will also discuss methods to determine CNT attachment to AFM probes including changes in AFM image resolution, amplitude versus distance curves and SEM imaging. We demonstrate that the pick-up method can be applied to a range of AFM probes, including contact mode probes with relatively soft spring constants (0.28 N/m). Finally, we demonstrate that the pick-up method can be used to attach CNTs to two AFM tips simultaneously. This is significant as it demonstrates the techniques potential for attaching CNTs to multiple AFM tips which could have applications in AFM-based data storage, devices such as the Snomipede, or making CNT-AFM tips more commercially viable.

Original languageEnglish
Article number5575
Number of pages15
JournalApplied Sciences (Switzerland)
Issue number16
Publication statusPublished - 12 Aug 2020


  • Atomic force microscope tips
  • Carbon nanotubes
  • Tapping mode


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