Atomic Resolution with STM in Physics Lab

An interview with Dr. Suzanne Amador Kane at Haverford College

Haverford College students with scanning tunneling microscope (STM) in Physics lab

Haverford College students with scanning tunneling microscope (STM) in Physics lab 

By the end of their sophomore year, physics majors at Haverford College in Pennsylvania have already acquired their own atomic resolution images using a scanning tunneling microscope (STM).

In the 2-week STM lab, which is part of the lab component of the Modern Physics course, students learn to use a Nanosurf® easyScan STM and take images of a nanogrid and graphite. “It’s been a big success,” says Dr. Suzanne Amador Kane, associate professor of physics. “They always see atomic resolution images.”

Dr. Kane, who introduced the STM into the physics curriculum together with colleague Walter Smith, says, “I’ve been recommending this system to people I meet at other institutions for their junior-level labs since it’s worked so well for us.”

Dr. Kane said some of the other instructors were at first daunted by the anticipated complexity of adding an STM lab. “But as usual, we had them imaging on their own in a single afternoon. They are really pleased with the experiment now. Even though both of them were completely new to the system, it’s been running extremely smoothly this year, with only about twenty minutes of ongoing input from me.”

Haverford sophomore Physics students cycle through a series of 2-week labs in conjunction with the Modern Physics lecture course. In addition to reinforcing the lecture material by actually doing some of the experiments, the lab series also serves to familiarize students with test equipment and experimental apparatus that they’re actually likely to use in future research.

The STM lab addresses quantum mechanical tunneling, energy levels, solid state physics, and methods for micro- and nano-fabrication. “The nice thing about the STM lab is that it is a research grade experiment,” says Dr. Kane. “If we train them on how to use the STM, they’re acquiring skills that are directly useful when we have them doing scanning probe microscopy in other settings.” 

The college also has two AFMs, and students have additional opportunities to pursue nanoscience studies by participating in faculty research projects. A collaboration of Haverford biology, physics, chemistry, and math faculty has been funded to do research in the synthesis and physical characterization of novel biomaterials based on the principles of protein design.