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.

  1. atomic force microscopy (AFM)
  2. materials science
  3. nanoHUB-U
  4. NCN Group - Characterization and Metrology
  5. NCN Group - Materials Science
  6. VEDA - Virtual Environment for Dynamic AFM


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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, self-paced online courses. The courses develop a unified framework for understanding the multifaceted aspects of atomic force microscopy.

The second course, Fundamentals of Atomic Force Microscopy, Part 2: Dynamic AFM Methods is also available as a free self-paced class.

Scientific Overview

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.

Recommended reading material, Fundamentals of Atomic Force Microscopy, Part I: Foundations by Professor Ronald Reifenberger is now available via World Scientific Publishing Company.

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)

  • L1.1: – IntraMolecular Interactions
  • L1.2: – Electric Dipoles
  • L1.3: – InterMolecular Interactions: Physical Models
  • L1.4: – InterMolecular Interactions: Ion-Dipoles
  • L1.5: – InterMolecular Interactions: Keesom Force
  • L1.6: – InterMolecular Interactions: Dispersion Force

Week 2: Tip-Surface Interactions (Contact)

  • L2.1: – Hamaker
  • L2.2: – Surface Energies
  • L2.3: – Dejaugin Approximation
  • L2.4: – Elasticity of Materials
  • L2.5: – Contact Mechanics
  • L2.6: – Hertz, JKR, DMT

Week 3: AFM – The Instrument

  • L3.1: – Tip-Sample Interactions: The Water Meniscus
  • L3.2: – Introduction to VEDA
  • L3.3: – AFM Components
  • L3.4: – AFM Calibrations
  • L3.5: – Contact Mode Scans
  • L3.6: – The AFM as a System

Week 4: Force Spectroscopy

  • L4.1: – Cantilever Mechanics/The Force Sensor
  • L4.2: – The Approach Curve
  • L4.3: – Jump to Contact
  • L4.4: – Processing Force Curves
  • L4.5: – Modulus and Adhesion Maps
  • L4.6: – Lateral Force Microscopy (LFM)

Week 5: Contact Mode Imaging

  • L5.1: – Force-Distance Simulations I
  • L5.2: – Force-Distance Simulations II
  • L5.3: – Contact Mode Scanning Simulations I
  • L5.4: – Contact Mode Scanning Simulations II
  • L5.5: – Contact Mode Feedback Simulations
  • L5.6: – Image Artifacts

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.

 Fundamentals of Atomic Force Microscopy, Part 1: Fundamental Aspects of AFM first published on nanoHUB-U, July 2013.


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

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