Undergraduate Teaching

Engineering Tripos Part IIA Project, SG1: Atomic Force Microscope, 2018-19

Engineering Tripos Part IIA Project, SG1: Atomic Force Microscope, 2018-19

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Dr T O'leary

Timing and Structure

Thursdays 11-1pm and Mondays 9-11am plus afternoons


3F1 and 3F2 useful


The aims of the course are to:

  • Understand the basic functioning of an Atomic Force Microsope
  • Develop models for a piezo-electric translation stage and design controllers to compensate for its natural resonance, while still providing a sufficiently fast and accurate response.
  • Gain practical laboratory skills and an appreciation of what is involved in getting sensitive apparatus to deliver good quality data


An Atomic Force Microscope (AFM) is a fairly new instrument in the area of Scanning Probe Microscopy (SPM) that is capable of imaging with extremely high resolution. It can resolve single DNA strands, measure nano-Newtons and determine friction coefficients of microscopic materials. In this project students will work with a custom-made AFM. There is a significant focus in this project on the modelling and control of a piezo-electric translation stage, which is used to take scans. Please note: a necessary and important part of the project is developing patience, manual dexterity and an ability to troubleshoot practical problems. A goal of this lab is to develop an appreciation of the issues that can arise in turning theory into a practical application - this is fundamental to engineering.


Students will work in teams of two, with each pair sharing an AFM.


  • Week 1: Familiarisation with the procedures of using the AFM. Compute and then measure the gain of the /optical lever/, which is the enabling technology of an AFM and which determines its resolution. Write first interim report.
  • Week 2: Collect experimental data from the AFM for modelling. Hand measurement of the resonant frequencies. Develop spectral and parametric linear models in Matlab. Write second interim report.
  • Weeks 3 and 4: Develop controllers in Matlab and implement on the AFM. Takes various scans. Investigate three post-processing techniques in Matlab that will improve the image quality. Write final report.


Coursework Due date Marks

Interim report 1

Thu 16 May 2019


Interim report 2

Thur 23 May 2019


Final report

4pm Thu 6 June 2019



Examination Guidelines

Please refer to Form & conduct of the examinations.

Last modified: 20/12/2018 16:56