One of the great breakthroughs in the field of nanotechnology was the ability to image individual atoms. We “see” the individual atoms that make up the nanoworld using instruments called scanning probe microscopes (SPMs). These instruments use a probe tip that terminates in a single atom. When the probe strip is scanned across a surface in atom-sized movements, differences in force can be felt by the probe tip as it is closer or farther away from the surface atoms. Researchers use this method to image the pattern of atoms on the surface. In this activity, refrigerator magnets are used to model how probe microscopes create an image of an atomic surface without actually seeing it.
- Refrigerator magnets, cut into large “surface” pieces and small “probe strip” pieces
- Magnetic field diagrams