Atomic force microscopy (AFM) suffers from an important limitation: it does not provide quantitative information about the scanned sample. This is because too many unknowns come into play in AFM measurements. The shape of the tip is probably the most important. A technique able to characterize in situ the shape of the tip apex would represent an important step ahead to turn the AFM into a quantitative tool.
Standard methods can be destructive to the tip and are time consuming. Two main methods are currently used to characterize the tip radius in situ without affecting its shape. The first consists of characterizing the tip radius by monitoring the dynamics of the cantilever. The value of free amplitude, for which transitions from the attractive to repulsive force regimes are observed, strongly depends on the curvature of the tip. The second method to characterize the tip radius consists instead on fitting the capacitance curve of the tip-sample system with an analytical function.
In this work we compare the two methods to characterize in situ the tip radius and results are verified with SEM images. The value of the free amplitude is correlated with the value of R while the capacitance curve is derived with a method we proposed. Tips with different tip radii are used. The investigation is conducted with the aim of determining the most reliable technique for characterizing the tip radius for both sharp and blunt tips.