Enriching the Field of Materials Science through Open Access Tutorials
A Masdar Institute PhD student is advancing the ability of students and scientists in materials science to capitalize on atomic force microscopy (AFM) to image and characterize materials at the nanometer scale by developing specialized video content and tutorials that are being offered on an open access channel.
Tuza Olukan has developed an AFM YouTube channel to serve as a virtual classroom and reference that researchers anywhere in the world can refer to when calibrating their experiments. There, users can access a variety of videos Olukan has developed that guide AFM users through various research techniques and standards.
Working in nanotechnology requires a deep understanding of the chemical composition and structure of any given material at the nanoscale – a scale that is approximately one hundred thousand times smaller than the width of a single strand of human hair. AFM is an ideal tool for the required imaging, analysis and characterization of materials at the nanoscale, which it does by feeling the atomic forces between the microscope’s sharp tip and the material’s surface, creating contrast maps of the material’s surface topography. However, the expert-level use of AFM required for this type of research takes considerable time and commitment to develop, which is why Olukan developed the channel.
“A key difference between AFM and other microscopy tools is its ability to image and possibly analyze a material’s chemical components with high spatial resolution at the same, enabling researchers to characterize a material immediately. However, many researchers don’t know how to leverage AFM’s analytical measuring capabilities and rely on it for imaging alone. The YouTube channel is a tool for AFM users that will allow them to focus more on using AFM for research rather than on how to use it. The channel is available to anyone who’s interested in understanding how to use AFM, anywhere in the world,” explained Olukan.
The inspiration for the open access research resource came to Olukan through his work with the research group of Dr. Matteo Chiesa, Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Masdar Institute.
“I realized a lot of valuable lab time was being used in learning how to use AFM, rather than to conduct the meaningful AFM experiments for our research. In response to this, I started developing video content for materials science students, where some of the unique techniques we utilize could be shared,” he revealed.
The AFM YouTube channel, which is called the Laboratory for Energy and Nano Science (LENS) AFM Tutorials, provides tool-specific tutorials that enable AFM users to correctly calibrate experiments and navigate the complexity of advanced AFM experimental equipment. The videos are intended to disseminate some of the most recent AFM operating methods.
In addition to educating interested AFM users on how to operate the scanning probe microscope and optimize experiments, a major impetus driving the development of the YouTube channel is a strong desire to facilitate a globally accepted standardization of AFM methods across the scientific community.
“Such standardization could accelerate the development of advanced materials across the world by increasing the number of force curve profiles for a range of materials, which would help researchers easily recognize new materials,” explained Dr. Chiesa.
Dr. Chiesa believes that many of the AFM experiments and studies reported in the scientific literature can’t be reproduced quantitatively, as the experiments are too complicated or too little information on how the experiment was conducted is provided.
“This is one of the reasons why researchers primarily use AFM to qualitatively observe differences in materials. The next step and ultimate goal is to obtain quantitative data that are highly reproducible,” Dr. Chiesa said. It is the lack of reproducible quantitative data that necessitates a standardization in the way scientists perform experiments.
To overcome this obstacle, Dr. Chiesa and his team have developed a range of AFM methods and techniques – which they have made available through their open access channel – that can be used to determine a material’s force curve profile, which is a material’s unique signature. The force curve profile contains a huge amount of information that can be leveraged to recognize a material’s unique characteristics. The force curve profiles, if obtained by following standard operation procedures, can then be compiled and shared in an open-source database.
“If we can get scientists from around the world to conduct their AFM experiments in a standard way, then we can compile the data obtained from their experiments into a large database on materials aided by computer algorithms, which would accelerate the pace of new material development and significantly optimize material scientists’ research,” Dr. Chiesa explained.
Dr. Chiesa’s group is already working to compile a comprehensive database of different materials’ force curve profiles, in an effort called the Mendeleev-Meyer force project (TMMFP). TMMFP aims to tabulate all materials and substances in a fashion similar to the periodic table with the added ability to automate the process of material identification.
Dr. Chiesa, Olukan and the rest of the research group are creating a platform for high quality AFM research in order to advance the field of materials science and in turn, the development of new materials that could lead to innovations in clean energy, health and other key economic sectors.
Zarina Khan, Senior Editor and Erica Solomon, News and Features Writer
2 May 2017