A $200 Lego model of an $80,000 atomic force microscope (AFM) was built this past summer in Gordon's Bowden Engineering Lab in the Ken Olsen Science Center. This Lego demonstration model functions in a manner similar to a real AFM, and gives students a conceptual and functional understanding of the powerful research instrument before actually learning how to use an AFM.
The Lego version was built by recent high school graduate Nathan Calandra while working as a summer intern in Dr. David Lee's lab. The student's high school (Lexington Christian Academy) requires all graduating seniors to do 4-week internships with professionals in their field of interest. Nathan is now a freshman at Gordon and part of the school's growing 3-2 engineering program. The experience over the summer helped him decide to come to Gordon rather than head straight to an engineering institution.
All of Gordon's physics and engineering students have an opportunity to use the Park Systems XE-70 AFM as part of the advanced lab curriculum or while pursuing independent research. Scanning probe microscopy (of which atomic force microscopy is one particular technique) was originally developed to explore the physics of materials at the atomic level; now the technique is used across all the sciences and in industry. In 1986 the inventors of the STM (the original form of scanning probe microscopy) were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics. The technique is one of the most powerful and flexible for characterizing materials on the nanometer scale and complements well the lower resolution capabilities of techniques such as scanning electron microscopy.
Gordon College's SPM is capable of contact and non-contact AFM, lateral force microscopy, phase imaging, chemical force microscopy, force-displacement spectroscopy, conductive AFM, I-V spectroscopy, magnetic force microscopy, force-modulation spectroscopy, nanoindentation and nanolithography. Students have used Gordon's AFM to study topics as far-ranging as the quality of weld-joints across advanced metallic alloys to photodegradation of polymers to the mechanical properties of corneal cell walls.
For more information about the instrument, or the 3-2 engineering or physics programs at Gordon College, contact Dr. David Lee at david.leegordon.edu