I am running an experiment that uses a microsphere (Diameter ~ 50um) mounted onto the end of an AFM cantilever. I run several experiments in a row, but somewhere during a sequence, the microsphere acquires some non-organic dirt that effects the outcome of the experiment.

Does anyone know - or can suggest - a way to clean the ball while it is still mounted onto the AFM? Or a way to clean the ball at all? We have a UV plasma cleaner, but it is not doing the job.


  • $\begingroup$ Another question that would be particularly well suited to Experimental or Applied Physics if that proposal gets off the ground. $\endgroup$ – dmckee Sep 5 '11 at 20:40
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    $\begingroup$ @dmckee I agree, but in fact this is one of those I would consider off topic (here) because it doesn't involve actual physics - at least, I don't consider cleaning techniques to fall under the domain of physics proper. $\endgroup$ – David Z Sep 5 '11 at 21:11
  • $\begingroup$ @David perhaps we'll learn about something clever you can do the depends on electrostatics or the vibration characteristics of the cantilever, but failing that I think you may be right. $\endgroup$ – dmckee Sep 5 '11 at 22:02
  • $\begingroup$ A UV Plasma cleaner works better for organic residues. Have you tried to identify the source of the dirt? As some AFMs even work in liquid you can try to wash away the dirt with a solvent. As the answer really depends on the circumstances maybe you can elaborate on your setup? $\endgroup$ – Alexander Nov 4 '11 at 18:35
  • $\begingroup$ The safest way would be to rinse it with DI water followed by pure ethanol. Trying something exotic may lead to destruction of the AFM probe, which can be very expensive. $\endgroup$ – Antillar Maximus Feb 19 '12 at 15:56

You can use general metal cleaning processes used in microelectronics - which is basically washing in acids and then in DI water. You obviously should choose chemicals which does not dissolve your sphere or cantilever.

If sphere is SiO2 then sulfuric, nitric or HCl acids should do the job. Not sure which of these would be safe for cantilever.

  • $\begingroup$ The AFM tip may get messed up if uses strong etching chemicals. $\endgroup$ – Antillar Maximus Feb 19 '12 at 15:53

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