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nanoHUB-U: Fundamentals of Atomic Force Microscopy, Part 1: Fundamental Aspects of AFM

A free two-part series of online courses covering the principles and practice of atomic force microscopy.

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Offering: 01a
Section: Self Paced

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About the Instructor

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Ron Reifenberger

Purdue University

Ron Reifenberger is currently a professor of Physics at Purdue University and a member of Purdue’s Center for Sensing Science and Technology. He received his undergraduate degree in Physics from John Carroll University in 1970 and his PhD in Physics from the University of Chicago in 1976. He joined the Physics faculty at Purdue in 1978 following a two-year post-doctoral appointment in the Physics Department at the University of Toronto. Upon joining the faculty at Purdue, Reifenberger initiated a program to measure photo-induced field emitted electrons from a variety of metals. Since 1986, Reifenberger’s scanning probe group has been active in furthering inter-disciplinary nanoscale research at Purdue by establishing collaborations with faculty throughout campus. His group has focused on research problems that emphasize the role of scanning probe microscopy (SPM) as one of the key enablers of nanotechnology. His current research is focused on non-linear dynamics of SPM cantilevers, micro patterning of substrates for the rapid detection of targeted bacteria, and fundamental measurements related to current flow in molecules, carbon nanotubes and Au nanocluster networks. This work is currently supported by grants from ARO, NSF, DOE, NASA and NAVSEA and has resulted in ~130 refereed publications and three US patents. Reifenberger has received the Distinguished Alumni Award from John Carroll University in 1992, is on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, and has been a Conference Co-organizer of the European Trends in Nanotechnology 2001 and Trends in Nanotechnology 2002 Conferences. He recently participated in the international APEC Foresight Committee entitled Nanotechnology, The Technology for the 21st Century.


A free two-part series of online courses covering the principles and practice of atomic force microscopy

Professors Arvind Raman and Ron Reifenberger have developed two web-based courses in response to enthusiastic feedback received for video lectures posted on that discussed all aspects of scanning probe microscopy (SPM). The original video lectures have attracted over 7,000 viewers worldwide. The course content has been refined and condensed from the original full-semester course offered at Purdue University beginning in 2009 into two, five-week online courses. The courses develop a unified framework for understanding the multifaceted aspects of atomic force microscopy.

The course material of Fundamentals of Atomic Force Microscopy, Part 1: Fundamental Aspects of AFM is available as a free self-paced class taken online.

Scientific Overview Video

Course Objectives

The atomic force microscope (AFM) is a key enabler of nanotechnology, and a proper understanding of how this instrument operates requires a broad-based background in many disciplines. Few users of AFM have the opportunity or resources to rapidly acquire the interdisciplinary knowledge that allows an intelligent operation of this instrument. This focused, in-depth course solves this problem by presenting a unified discussion of the fundamentals of atomic force microscopy. By registering for this course, students will be exposed to the knowledge base required to understand how an AFM operates.

Fundamentals of Atomic Force Microscopy, Part 1: Fundamental Aspects of AFM is designed to develop many key concepts – both theoretical and experimental – which allow a better understanding of the principles underlying the AFM.

Who Should Take the Courses

As the use of AFM expands, there must be a greater understanding of AFM techniques at all levels to better appreciate how AFM can be used for any particular application. Those requiring more than an entry-level understanding of AFM might include:

  • Graduate students beginning a research topic involving AFM
  • Continuing-education professionals
  • Scientists and engineers involved in commercial or industrial R&D


The online course is intended to be broadly accessible to beginning graduate students in any branch of science or engineering.

Fundamentals of Atomic Force Microscopy, Part 1: Fundamental Aspects of AFM requires a basic familiarity with topics usually covered in a two-semester college course in introductory physics. Selected topics from upper-division undergraduate courses in electricity and magnetism, thermodynamics, and quantum will be reviewed when required. A working knowledge of both integral and differential calculus is assumed. A basic understanding of electronic circuit concepts will be helpful.

Course Outline

Preview the lectures below, or join the course by clicking the yellow button on the right and entering your nanoHUB login information!

Week 1: Tip-Surface Interactions (Non-Contact)

Week 2: Tip-Surface Interactions (Contact)

Week 3: AFM – The Instrument

Week 4: Force Spectroscopy

Week 5: Contact Mode Imaging

Course Resources

  • A account is required. Sign up for free now!
  • Prerecorded video lectures distilling the essential concepts into a concise, five-week module.
  • Homework exercises with solutions and homework tutorials.
  • Online quizzes to quickly assess understanding of material after each video lecture.
  • An online forum, hosted by nanoHUB. Students enrolled in the course will be able to interact with one another.
  • Exams for each weekly module. Once a student starts a test, the student will have two hours to complete it. Students will have two chances to get a passing score of 70% or higher. The tests are scored instantly.


This self-paced course is available at no cost to anyone with a account.

nanoHUB-U is powered by, the home for computational nanoscience and nanotechnology research, education, and collaboration., a resource for nanoscience and nanotechnology, is supported by the National Science Foundation and other funding agencies. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.