By Michael Hill
If Homer thought the world was flat, he’d freak out at what this atomic force microscope shows of an object that’s as flat and smooth as a Blu-ray Disc.
“A Blu-ray Disc isn’t even flat,” said Stockton University Associate Physics Professor Jason Shulman.
Shulman is wowed by the magnifying capability of the $6 million microscope the school acquired a month ago.
“Things that are a nanometer, one billionth of a meter, across can be observed with this microscope,” he said.
Shulman puts a Blu-ray Disc on the microscope and then taps the return key and watches the scope and the strobe on the computer screen inch their way down toward the disc — not touching it but so close it detects the disc’s deflections. In plain speak, it’s peaks and valleys of a surface that seem simply flat. This strobe vibrates at 70,000 times per second.
The result: “There is a height along this line that I’ve drawn and you can see how deep. You see it’s about 60 nanometers deep — 60 billionths of a meter deep — and it is about half a millionth of a meter wide,” Shulman said.
Shulman says the measurements with the atomic force microscope have everyday implications for all of us.
“Especially with modern science, things are becoming smaller. We’re trying to fit more transistors on chips and nanotechnology is impacting our lives now. And so as things become smaller and smaller, it becomes necessary to measure or observe or study these smaller and smaller things. And the atomic force microscopes allow us to do that,” he said.
It’s freshman physics major Jessica Bolich’s first time working with the atomic force microscope. She’s well aware of what this can mean for her education and beyond.
“I think it’s incredible, the way we can see something that can’t be seen with the naked eye because what we’re trying to observe is smaller than the wavelength of light,” she said.
Shulman and his students are looking for a billion new ways to explore and learn as they become part of the expanding world of nanoscience.