SOLVER Nano – compact modular affordable SPM system
with full-function capabilities.
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The NT-MDT Co. started its activity in 1989. By the year 2002, it achieved leading positions as a manufacturer of scanning probe microscopes in Russia and proved its competitiveness in the world market. That year, an idea to create a Didactic AFM for teaching process at universities and high-schools for Russian Educational System was advanced.
However, it appeared that straight adaptation of any Professional AFM for educational purposes was not an optimal solution because many principal requirements, including decreased operation costs of AFM, improved protection against the fool, AFM cost reduction, and ease-to-use, could not be met with available hardware and software at that time.
So, the resulting decision was to develop a new product "from scratch" under the title of an Ultracompact SPM/AFM with highest resolution and stability, affordable and low operation costs, easy to use with capability to use it as teaching didactic AFM for Russians Universities and High-Schools. This project involved the University ITMO, Saint Petersburg that joined NT-MDT Co. to organize a team which continuously works with development and support of the product since that time. Finally, the Project received the name of Nanoeducator in Russia.
Just in one year after the Project started, a principally new teaching AFM Nanoeducator was developed and its prototypes were fabricated, and as early as in 2003 software modules and user interface were tested. Design of the Ultracompact didactic AFM accounted for intensive use by pre-colledge , high-school and university students, who are unexperienced to operate complex delicate analytical equipment, for full-day operation time, and for the factor that operation costs affordable by educational institutions should be much lower that those for research companies.
These requirements resulted in the following features of the teaching AFM Nanoeducator:
AFM design protected from mechanical breakages (protection from the fool);
New type of tips;
AFM design protected from mechanical breakages (protection from the fool)
The design of the affordable AFM Nanoeducator is ultracompact with minimum connecting cables and without any projecting part. A rigid housing borrowed from thePractical AFM protects critical parts of the SPM (scanner, positioning system, probe area) and makes a number of regular procedures, including probe change, sample change and any manipulation with scanning head, as simple and safe as never before (the instrument allows removing the measuring head in the course of scanning).
New type of tips
Usually, scanning probe microscopes are equipped with probes based on silicon cantilevers which cost is 10-100 USD for 1 piece. This price is unaffordable for most of pre-colledge, high-school and university laboratories for teaching and didactic procedure (at least, for educational system of Russian Federation). That is why the educational AFM is equipped with probes of a new type that allows for the probe tips to sharpen and renew. The probe tip inserted in the piezoelectric tube is made of tungsten wire of 0.16-0.20 mm diameter. The tip apex can be sharpened as required with a tool of electrochemical etching (supplied with the teaching AFM). When the tip "wears off", it is just replaced in the piezoelectric tube with another one (this can be made from a supplied piece of wire of 1 m length) and the training AFM is ready for operation again. 1 m wire holds out 150 probe tips which can be further sharpened many times. This results in low operation costs of SPM Nanoeducator.
The software is provided for Windows and MacOs operational systems. It is implemented as a sequence of procedural blocks that follows the step-by-step organization of the experiment: a next step can be run only when the current step is completed. This avoids many errors of students which can damage the Didactic AFM. However, image processing is performed with a program designed for the Professional AFM. It provides professional quality of resulting data even with the teaching AFM.
As the early analysis of the Project on the affordable AFM showed, its application in pre-colledge, high-school and university laboratories for training and teaching procedure requires some special Didactic materials, including educational modules, tasks, laboratory works, as well as a kit of basic samples and consumable parts.
This problem was solved and in 2003 the first of mass production AFMs for educational and training was delivered to the Lobachevsky State University of Nizhni Novgorod.
By the year 2008, the Ultra compact Didactic SPMs were installed and effectively used in most of technical and classical universities of Russian Federation (80 institutions in total).
By the end of 2008, the Project was informed by several universities that this SPM appeared a quite promising tool in engaging pre-college students in science competition and high school students in independent research.
Authorities of those universities along with practicizing tutors recommended NT-MDT Co. to develop the educational SPM further to provide capabilities of complex scientific research.
"Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!"
Nanoeducator was followed by Solver Nano that accumulates all advantages of its predecessor and gains functionality for practical research.
Solver Nano advantages:
High speed and highest resolution ultra-compact Metrology AFM. Solver Nano is a metrology instrument due to its professional grade scanners with low-noise feedback system. Large-area linearity of the scanners is combined with low noise and the highest resolution in AFM mode. All basic and specialized AFM modes are available in the research configuration that includes an ultrafast digital controller and a scanning head with a silicon cantilever.High resolution optics. Environment control - temperature control, work in liquid.
Solver Nano borrowed all features of teaching and training implemented in Nanoeducator. So Solver Nano is also an affordable SPM for education in colleges, high-schools and universities supplied with educational modules, tasks, and laboratory works as well as with a kit of basic samples and consumable parts.