Rohrer and Binnig
Nobel Laureates Heinrich Rohrer and Gerd Binnig
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The Scanning Tunneling Microscope

The scanning tunneling microscope (STM) is a type of electron microscope that shows three-dimensional images of a sample. In the STM, the structure of a surface is studied using a stylus that scans the surface at a fixed distance from it.

Currents Control the Surface
An extremely fine conducting probe is held close to the sample. Electrons tunnel between the surface and the stylus, producing an electrical signal. The stylus is extremely sharp, the tip being formed by one single atom. It slowly scans across the surface at a distance of only an atom's diameter. The stylus is raised and lowered in order to keep the signal constant and maintain the distance. This enables it to follow even the smallest details of the surface it is scanning. Recording the vertical movement of the stylus makes it possible to study the structure of the surface atom by atom. A profile of the surface is created, and from that a computer-generated contour map of the surface is produced.

Important in Many Sciences
The study of surfaces is an important part of physics, with particular applications in semiconductor physics and microelectronics. In chemistry, surface reactions also play an important part, for example in catalysis. The STM works best with conducting materials, but it is also possible to fix organic molecules on a surface and study their structures. For example, this technique has been used in the study of DNA molecules.

  Related Laureates:
The Nobel Prize in Physics, 1986
- Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer »

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