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Ultra-sensitive NEMS-based cantilevers for sensing, scanned probe and very high-frequency applications


Scanning probe microscopies (SPM) and cantilever-based sensors generally use low-frequency mechanical devices of microscale dimensions or larger. Almost universally, off-chip methods are used to sense displacement in these devices, but this approach is not suitable for nanoscale devices. Nanoscale mechanical sensors offer a greatly enhanced performance that is unattainable with microscale devices. Here we describe the fabrication and operation of self-sensing nanocantilevers with fundamental mechanical resonances up to very high frequencies (VHF). These devices use integrated electronic displacement transducers based on piezoresistive thin metal films, permitting straightforward and optimal nanodevice readout. This non-optical transduction enables applications requiring previously inaccessible sensitivity and bandwidth, such as fast SPM and VHF force sensing. Detection of 127 MHz cantilever vibrations is demonstrated with a thermomechanical-noise-limited displacement sensitivity of 39 fm Hz−1/2. Our smallest devices, with dimensions approaching the mean free path at atmospheric pressure, maintain high resonance quality factors in ambient conditions. This enables chemisorption measurements in air at room temperature, with unprecedented mass resolution less than 1 attogram (10−18 g).

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Figure 1: Piezoresistively detected resonant response from a family of SiC nanocantilevers to a 1 nN a.c. drive signal versus frequency, at room temperature in vacuum.
Figure 2: Output voltage noise spectra of high- and very-high-frequency self-sensing nanocantilevers.
Figure 3: Pressure dependence of the resonance quality factor of a VHF nanocantilever.
Figure 4: Real-time NEMS chemisorption measurements.


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We acknowledge support for this work from DARPA/MTO-MGA through grant NBCH1050001.

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Correspondence to M. L. Roukes.

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Li, M., Tang, H. & Roukes, M. Ultra-sensitive NEMS-based cantilevers for sensing, scanned probe and very high-frequency applications. Nature Nanotech 2, 114–120 (2007).

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