Transitional Tapping Atomic Force Microscopy


Understanding energy-loss mechanisms at the nanoscale is the holy grail of surface physicists, surface chemists and biologists and predicting kinetics at the nanoscale has become important. For example, the key to identifying cues in mechanobiology and bio-kinetics lies with understanding the thermodynamics of single biomolecules and cells. Curiously, nature adopts soft-touch mechanisms to discern and navigate thermodynamic loss mechanisms in probing its environment at the nanoscale.

Researchers at the University of Calgary have developed an ultra-light tapping atomic force microscopy (AFM) technique mimicking nature’s soft touch. The method generates a unique two-stage energy distribution response from tip-surface interactions during the transitional tapping operation. This allows the decoupling of the elastic and viscous loss components simultaneously while generating AFM images. The technology can be implemented as an advanced mode into existing AFM systems or can be developed into a standalone device with novel artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms to seamlessly adapt and optimize parameter-sets necessary to achieve transitional tapping for a particular sample.



  • Soft-matter physics
  • Biomolecular/cellular imaging
  • Semiconductor and battery industries
  • Energy research



  • Coupling of mechanical, electromechanical, electrical and transport phenomena at the nanoscale.
  • Potential for a new class of scanning probe microscopes that exploit stochastic fluctuations in energy at interfaces.
  • Large potential market in various sectors such as medicine, biophysics, semiconductor and energy research.
  • Multi-modal, high speed image acquisition with simultaneous data science.