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Kent State University Gets Atomic Force Microscope Lab

Posted March 26, 2012 | Olivia Arnette
enter photo description
Kent State's Liquid Crystal Institute has five atomic force
microscopes in its microscopy lab.

When Hiroshi Yokoyama became director of Kent State University’s Liquid Crystal Institute about six months ago, he was determined to set the laboratory apart from others.

Yokoyama went to university officials with the idea to invest in a new Atomic Force Microscope (AFM) laboratory. With the financial support of the university, he was able to install five AFMs in the same lab, unlike any other microscopy lab.

“I’d like to provide students with a good opportunity to expose themselves to advanced analytical tools because knowing how to operate AFM is important to pursue a science and technology career,” Yokoyama says.

The AFM can image almost any type of surface, and can be used in air, water or vacuum. An AFM uses a needle so small and sharp that it cannot be seen by the naked eye. The needle is attached to a spring so the needle scans over a surface from side to side. The motion of the needle is detected by optical sensors.

Graduate and undergraduate students, post-doctoral and faculty can use the AFM lab for their own research projects. Yokoyama plans to make the laboratory available for other classes, like chemistry, physics and biology.

Yokoyama says that having five sets of instruments in one lab is unique because it gives everyone an opportunity to work on her or his own project.

“Almost everywhere there’s a lab, AFM is there,” says Yokoyama. “Our graduates are supposed to be able to operate an AFM from day one.”

Yokoyama held a workshop from Jan. 30 to Feb. 2, where 25 students volunteered to help build the microscopes from pieces and test the AFMs.

“All of the students who participated in the workshop really enjoyed themselves,” says Yokoyama. “Operating this kind of machine is very, very inspiring and stimulating.”

He plans to hold more workshops for students, but is unsure how often. As of right now, there is no fixed format or application to participate. Yokoyama plans to set up a workshop system as soon as possible.

For more information about the Liquid Crystal Institute, visit