Open Source STM

We hope you paid attention in advanced theoretical and quantum physics classes, or making your own Open Source Scanning-Tunneling Microscope might be a bit of a doozy. We’re not even going to try to begin to explain the device (honestly we slept through that course) beyond clarifying it is used for examining the molecular and atomic structure of surfaces; but for those still interested there is a nice breakdown of how Scanning Tunneling Microscopy works.

[Thanks Rich]


  1. bothersaidpooh says:

    had no idea it was possible to homebrew one of these.
    Now what would be neat is to improvise some sort of rotary surface (cpu fan?) so that the entire sample can be scanned without moving the head in more than two axes.

  2. zeropointmodule says:

    reckon that a Zip100 or hard drive’s head amplifier IC could be repurposed as a STM amplifier?

    just a thought, as they aren’t hard to get hold of and most of the time the IC survives even though the head is crashed.

    You might also look into using broken piezo lighters as the source for crystals, they usually work well and have metallised ends.

  3. Sean says:

    I have also read papers where an alpha particle source and a small detector were used to scan thin materials (cells, for instance). I’ve not seen it used outside of biology though.

    This is a wonderful project and I may need to build one. I love using opamps at open loop gain in faraday cages, and this looks like an excuse to do so.

  4. Punk says:

    i just learned about these in an issue of highlight magazine from 1991 last night

  5. M4CGYV3R says:


    That is far too much math for something I want to do in my spare time.

  6. therian says:

    Couple years ago I stumble on some genius guy site and he build electronic microscope from common parts ingeniously using simple piezoelectric speaker cut on 4 pieces with glued nail in the center as X-Y image pick up and some instrumental op-amps, the results images are pretty clear even in early prototypes, sadly I cant give a link since I lost it in thousand poorly marked bookmarks

  7. the_steven says:

    Great, now I can start moving atoms around, form letters and spell words…

    Let the evil begin!

  8. Dan says:

    @therian: I think this is the site you are talking about:

    It is too bad that he hasn’t posted any updates… Also the resolution of the scanner seems like it might not be that good, although maybe it can be zoomed by changing the voltages. Again, it is too bad that he only has two pictures posted.

  9. zerth says:

    They made that using an ISA AD/DA board? I’d have to go digging through my junk pile back a few years before I found a motherboard with an ISA slot.

    I remember seeing an ISA to USB adapter while shopping for science gear, but does anyone make motherboards for modern chips with ISA on them?

  10. greycode says:

    I LOVE THE TIMES I AM LIVING IN!!!! I remember when these things were just starting to hit a few major colleges. Now you too can own a STM microscope for the low low price of 19.99! Think this is a good deal, how about two for the price of 19.99? And we will throw in a Hand Chopper and this set of fine steak knives! That is right two STM microscopes for the low low price of 19.99 plus shipping and handling!

    Seriously, can you imagine what you want to build next week? How about an atom smasher? What is left? Really think that Star Trek stuff is out of reach? The way computers are moving, I don’t think the Virtual Reality room is that far away.

  11. therian says:

    @Dan thanks

  12. therian says:

    ability to move atoms in early stage now, maybe in 30 years we will be able to to this at home

  13. Whatnot says:

    I’d never manage to isolate the thing from vibration and sound(-vibration).

  14. FDP says:

    These projects have been around for quite some time. Definitely open source hardware from before the time that open source hardware was popular.

  15. hellbringercid says:

    @ therian i dont know the way we are advancing we might have a VERY simpe atom mover on our own desks in the next 5 or 10 years, well let me take that back, with the way HACKERS are advancing we will have one in less then 15. god i love our civilization.

  16. Moose says:

    I work with high-precision optics at my day job and have access to some seriously high-end catalogues. Thorlabs (Japan) makes nano-manipulators that are the commercial cousins to those sourced in the article, but breathtakingly expensive (think thousands of $ for a three-axis model with a 1nm resolution).

    I think it’s way beyond cool that someone is doing this on the cheap! Makes you wonder-

    What’s next?

  17. zeropointmodule says:

    @sean, really? neat.

    a little while ago i discovered that pyrolytic graphite and a used cmos “exposed chip” camera could be used to image low intensity gamma rays.
    a few alphas get through if it is thin enough..

    now what would be cool is to use a collimator, small end window GM tube and a shielded alpha source, and image a few chips and random samples.

    you can also use Lo-salt ™ as a radiation source as it contains about 1% K-40..


  18. Jim says:

    There’s some image sheering due to tracking errors, but holy crap I can’t believe they homebrewed such a precision device. The carbon image is nearly perfect.

    So, how about using software to clean up the images?

  19. Jason says:

    This is pretty good. STM’s and AFM’s are cranky little babies. My group has homebuilt 3, I’m basically working on a 4th, 1 commercial and raising a 5th from the dead. The basics are simple, anyone can do that, but getting those perfect high res pics and force curves takes some sort of magic we haven’t really discovered yet.
    If anyone tries this you can make pretty good tips out of sharpened mechanical pencil graphite. But etched tungsten is the best.
    And someone asked you can get a newer PC with ISA slot. The one we had to get was a older P4 and the board itself was about $1200.
    Now if I can figure out how to run all this stuff off of my arduino…

  20. plokko says:

    damn ugly sites!

  21. guyfromhanover says:

    theres also one of those (homemade of course) here in hannover, i saw it a few years ago and its pretty cool

  22. Michael says:

    If you dont want to go with an ISA slot
    you can use a open source controller (well,
    at least the software is open source) :

    Hardware: (in the
    $1000 range, but really good)

    We are using those with commercial UHV-AFMs
    and are quite happy with them.

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