SMCF Facility
Surface & Materials Characterization

About the Facility

The NCMN Central Facility for Surface and Materials Characterization (SMCF) provides state-of-the-art instruments for nanometer-scale characterization of materials surface and physical properties. The SMCF facility specializes in scanning probe microscopies (SPM) such as Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM), Magnetic Force Microscopy (MFM), Electrostatic Force Microscopy (EFM), Piezoresponse Microscopy (PFM), Scanning Tunneling Microscopy (STM), Surface Potential Microscopy (PeakForce KPFM), PeakForce Tunneling AFM (PF-TUNA) and Quantitative Nanomechanical Property Mapping (PF-QNM).

These SPM instruments have the ability to operate in ambient air, vacuum, liquids, and different temperature environments. AFM can provide three-dimensional high contrast topographic images with sub-nanometer resolution including line width, grain size, thin film thickness, roughness measurements, sectioning of surfaces, particle analysis, surface defects, and pattern recognition, etc. Depending on the interaction of scanning probe and sample surface, a variety of physical properties can be measured such as electrical, magnetic, and nanomechanical properties.

In addition to the SPM systems, the Facility also offers non-probe based equipment for measuring thermal properties, a Differential Scanning Calorimeter (DSC), and a Thermogravimetry Analysis system (TGA). Also available is a polarizing optical microscope equipped with a hot stage with a high temperature capability to 375° C. Other equipment available inclues hardness test for characterization of a variety of materials.

The Central Facilities are university recharge centers that are open to all UNL researchers as well as external users with well-defined user fees. The SMCF central facility is located in the basement of Jorgensen Hall (Room 013, 011, and 009) at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The SMCF Specialist, Dr. Lanping Yue (see contact information) is in charge of the SMCF central facility to maintain equipment, teach and assist users in the use of these instruments, analysis techniques and data interpretation and presentation. Research collaborations are welcome from all university research groups as well as companies in Nebraska and elsewhere.

Acknowledgement Text

Agencies including NSF and the University providing partial support of our Nebraska Nanoscale Facilities and NCMN Facilities require that the following words be included at the end of any Acknowledgement section of a paper in which experimental work was done in NNF-NCMN facilities:

The research was performed in part in the Nebraska Nanoscale Facility: National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure and the Nebraska Center for Materials and Nanoscience, which are supported by the National Science Foundation under Award ECCS: 1542182, and the Nebraska Research Initiative.


1. Bruker Dimension ICON SPM
Bruker Dimension

Bruker Dimension Icon® Atomic Force Microscope is equipped with ScanAsyst® automatic image optimization mode based on PeakForce Tapping technology, which enables users to obtain consistent high-quality results easier and faster. This system is capable of many SPM applications (contact mode, tapping mode, ScanAsyst peakforce mode, AFM in fluid, Phase imaging, piezoresponse, and many others).

Material Mapping
The Icon SPM supports PeakForce QNM® Imaging Mode, enabling researchers to map and distinguish quantitatively between nanomechanical properties while simultaneously imaging sample topography at high resolution. This technology operates over an extremely wide range (1MPa to 50GPa for modulus and 10pN to 10μN for adhesion) to characterize a large variety of sample types.

Electrical Characterization
Users can carry out electrical characterization at the nanoscale with greater sensitivity and dynamic range using exclusive PeakForce TUNA & PeakForce KPFM modules. Key capabilities:

  • Electrostatic Force Microscopy (EFM) - measures variation in the electric field gradient above a sample.
  • Kelvin Probe Force Microscopy (KPFM) - measures material work function as well as surface charge.
  • Tunneling Current AFM (TUNA) - measures material’s electrical conductivity with wide range of currents from fA-mA.
  • Piezoresponse Force Microscopy (PFM) - studies piezo materials on nanoscale

Perform indentation, and lithography at the nanometer and molecular scales. The Icon’s XYZ closed-loop scanner provides precise probe positioning with no piezo creep and extremely low noise.

Heating and Cooling
Execute temperature control and thermal analysis on samples from –30°C to 250°C while scanning in various AFM modes.

2. EnviroScope Atomic Force Microscope (ESCOPE)

The Digital Instruments EnviroScope combines AFM imaging with environmental controls and hermetically sealed sample chamber to perform Contact Mode and TappingMode atomic force microscopy in air, vacuum, or a purged gas, as well as a heated environment. With advanced environmental capabilities, users can observe sample reactions to a variety of complex environmental conditions while scanning.

3. Dimension 3100 SPM system
Dimension 3100 SPM system

The Digital Instruments Nanoscope IIIa Dimension 3100 SPM system provides high resolution, 3D images for a large variety of materials, such as nanoparticles, polymers, DNA, semiconductor thin films, magnetic media, optics and other advanced nanostructures.

MFM image mode can scan samples in external magnetic fields, which is useful for in-situ imaging magnetic domain structures and magnetic switch behavior. The available magnetic devices can supply magnetic fields perpendicular (± 0.25 T) and/or parallel (± 0.35 T) to the sample surface.

4. DSC and TGA thermal analysis systems

The SMCF facility has two thermal analysis systems: a differential scanning calorimeter (DSC 204 F1 Phoenix) and a thermogravimetry analysis system (TGA 209 F1 Libra).  Both systems operate through a large temperature range from -170°C to 600°C for the DSC, and 25°C to 1100°C for the TGA.  These systems allow users to study and measure various thermal properties of materials such as; glass-transition temperatures, melting temperatures, melting enthalpy, crystallization temperatures, crystallization enthalpy, transition enthalpies, phase transformations, phase diagrams and other thermal properties.

DSC 204 F1 Phoenix
Differential scanning calorimeter (DSC 204 F1 Phoenix)
TGA 209 F1 Libra
Thermogravimetry analysis system (TGA 209 F1 Libra)
Olympus BX51 polarizing microscope
Olympus BX51 polarizing microscope
5. Olympus BX51 Polarizing Microscope

The SMCF houses an Olympus BX51 polarizing microscope which includes differential interference contrast capabilities for sample viewing, and image analysis.  In addition the thermal behavior of a sample can be observed under the microscope using a Mettler Toledo FP900 thermal system equipped with a FP 82 hot stage with a temperature range from room temperature to 375° C.

Tukon 2500 Knoop and Vickers tester
6. Tukon 2500 Knoop and Vickers tester
Vickers/Knoop Hardness Tester measures mechanical hardness of materials. The Vickers/ Knoop microhardness test is used particularly for small parts, very brittle materials or thin sheets, where only a small indentation may be made for testing purposes. The test force range: 10 g to 1000g. 
7. Other equipment
  • Buehler ISOMet 1000 Precision Saw
  • The IsoMet 1000 Precision Saw offers increased speed, load, and  a 7-inch diamond blade capacity that enables a wide variety of advance materials to be cut quickly and with low deformation. 
  • Buehler MiniMet 1000 Grinder-polisher
  • The MiniMet 1000 Grinder-polisher is a sample preparation system with adjustable speed and high pressure capability that quickly prepares materials (such as ceramics, composites, and metals) for cross-sectional analysis. 
  • Sartorius Cubis MSU2.7S-000-DM Microbalance
  • Microbalance with readability of 0.0001 mg is high-resolution measuring instrument used for measuring sample up to 2.1g weighing capacity.

Facility Contacts

Lanping Yue
Facility Specialist (primary)
013A Jorgensen Hall
Phone: 402-472-2742
Lanping Yue
Lanping Yue
Xingzhong Li
Facility Specialist (secondary)

033 Jorgensen Hall
Phone: 402-472-8762
Jim Li
Xingzhong "Jim" Li
Steve Michalski
Facility Specialist (tertiary)

Phone: 402-472-7096
Steve Michalski
Steve Michalski
Li Tan
Faculty Advisor

W334 Nebraska Hall
Phone: 402-472-4018
Li Tan
Li Tan