Tip size in atomic force microscopy (AFM) has a major impact on the resolution of images and on the results of nanoindentation experiments. Tip wear is therefore a key limitation in the application of AFM. Here we show, however, how wear can be turned into an advantage as it allows for directed tip shaping. We studied tip wear on high roughness polycrystalline titanium and diamond surfaces and show that tip wear on these surfaces leads to an increased tip size with a rounded shape of the apex. Next, we fitted single peaks from AFM images in order to track the changes in tip radius over time. This method is in excellent agreement with the conventional blind tip reconstruction method with the additional advantage that we could use it to demonstrate that the increase in tip size is gradual. Moreover, with our approach we can shape and control the tip size, while retaining identical chemical and cantilever properties. This significantly expands the reproducibility of AFM force spectroscopy data and is therefore expected to find a wide applicability.
Vorselen, D., Kooreman, E. S., Wuite, G. J. L., & Roos, W. H. (2016). Controlled tip wear on high roughness surfaces yields gradual broadening and rounding of cantilever tips. Scientific Reports, 6, . https://doi.org/10.1038/srep36972