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Scanning tunneling microscopy

Award plaque by G. Binnig
and H. Rohrer

Presented here is an overview of the present status and future prospects of scanning tunneling microscopy. Topics covered include the physical basis of the scanning tunneling microscope, its instrumentation aspects, and its use for structural and spectroscopic imaging—on a scale which extends to atomic dimensions. Associated experimental and theoretical studies are reviewed, including several which suggest potential applicability of this new type of microscope to a relatively broad range of biological, chemical, and technological areas.

Originally published:

IBM Journal of Research and Development, Volume 30, Issue 4, pp. 355-369 (1986).


Scanning tunneling microscopy (STM), invented by G. Binnig and H. Rohrer, received the Nobel Prize in physics in 1986. It provides images of the surface structure of materials with atomic resolution. This paper in the IBM Journal of Research and Development reviews the physical basis of STM, and the instrumentation required for a microscope. Today STM is used in industrial and basic research for characterizing surface roughness, observing surface defects, and for studying molecules and aggregates on surfaces. Because of its high resolution and broad applicability, STM and derivative microscopic techniques have enabled the field of nanoscience and technology.


See The Nobel Prize in Physics 1986, awarded to Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer.

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