The NaioAFM allows new users to acquire meaningful AFM images and data in as little as two hours. In the context of a highly time-constrained course, when perhaps only a total of twelve lab hours are planned, this efficiency is a significant advantage over many other atomic force microscopes (AFMs), for which the time commitment might be two or three times greater.
What makes the NaioAFM so easy to use? The engineers at Nanosurf Instruments have found solutions to three of the four common difficulties that new users face: positioning the incident laser light on the cantilever, adjusting the position of the reflected light spot on the photodiode, and setting the image-acquisition parameters. They accomplish the positioning of incident and reflected light by special grooves in the probe-chips that line up with raised ridges on the probe-mount, bringing the cantilever into the correct location – at the correct angle – such that the laser hits the cantilever and is reflected directly back into the photodiode without any adjustments. The image-acquisition parameters are set by a software algorithm, based on user input.
The fourth typical challenge, placing the probe chip into the probe mount, is the only remaining hurdle. Like anything else, "practice makes perfect". By only the third session, most users are confidently operating the NaioAFM.
The NaioAFM is simple to configure and fits into a briefcase small enough to be stowed beneath an airplane seat. Its easy setup and transportability facilitate both teaching and outreach. If the teaching lab is used for multiple purposes, it can be stored in a cabinet between lab sessions. Outreach is similarly simple; it can be taken to a middle-school classroom, either locally or on the other end of a flight.
In addition to being an entry-level instrument with a gentle learning curve, it can be used for simple research projects for determining the topography of samples. By restricting basic projects to the NaioAFM, more advanced AFMs can be booked exclusively by experienced users, enabling streamlined workflow within an institution.
As final notes, the NaioAFM is inexpensive. And considering its applications in teaching, outreach, and research, is highly cost effective.