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July 30th, 2007
Scientists in the US have developed an 'artificial fingertip' that boosts the resolution of atomic force microscopy, a technique that opens a window onto the nanoscale world. The tip can also assess the mechanical properties of the surface, determining whether the substance is soft, stiff or sticky.
Atomic force microscopes work by moving a sharp tip along the surface, touching each atom one by one. The tip is mounted on a cantilever that jiggles as it moves over the surface, rather like the arm on a record player. This movement can be translated into a topographic map of the surface. But it's a slow process, taking around one second per atom scanned.
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