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I'm trying to gain a better understanding of Atomic Force Microscopy, specifically the relationship between its lateral and depth resolution. I've seen a variety of metrics on the two, but in general, the depth resolution appears to be about two orders of magnitude more accurate than the lateral resolution. See the page Fundamental Theory of Atomic Force Microscopy for an example.

My question is, does the lower lateral resolution limit the usefulness of the higher depth resolution? In my current mental model, it seems like the height of a sample could vary significantly between points that aren't laterally resolvable. If that's the case, would the generated "height map" contain large discontinuities?

In the papers I've seen, the "height maps" are rather smooth, so I wonder if I'm missing something.

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    $\begingroup$ Normally you use it for large, flat surface with small bumps. The height resolution is given by the sensor that is super precise, while the lateral come from the precision in moving the head, that is more rough. $\endgroup$
    – patta
    May 1 '19 at 18:51
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My question is, does the lower lateral resolution limit the usefulness of the higher depth resolution?

No. The only thing really (size-wise) that AFM can't measure are individual atoms. You use STM for that. Otherwise, the lateral scale of things you want to measure is bigger anyway. I.e., I don't think your statement is accurate:

it seems like the height of a sample could vary significantly between points that are(n't?) laterally resolvable.

It is possible to have artifacts where a hole in your sample is so deep and narrow that the tip can't properly image it.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for your response! Combined with this article, I think I understand now. Also, thanks for catching the typo - edited the post to correct it :). $\endgroup$
    – ZenPylon
    May 2 '19 at 14:22
  • $\begingroup$ AFM can resolve individual atoms $\endgroup$
    – scrx2
    Jun 29 '19 at 16:50

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