Interview by Will Soutter
Dr Paul West, founder and owner of AFMWorkshop, talks to AZoNano about his unique take on AFM products and education, and tells us about AFMWorkshop's current initiative to give away a TT-AFM and a free training workshop.
WS - AFMWorkshop seems to have emerged fairly recently. Can you tell us why you decided to launch a new Atomic Force Microscope instrumentation firm at this time?
PW - While AFMWorkshop is new, I've been designing these instruments since I visited Drs Kristoff Gerber and Heine Rohrer (inventors of the Scanning Tunnelling Microscope) at IBM in Switzerland in 1983.
But more recently, I noticed an evolution in AFM use. There's been a growing demand for AFMs from people who don’t need all the bells and whistles of the traditional $100,000+ advanced research instruments. I was getting calls from people who had a legitimate need for an AFM, but the microscopes within their price range were basically toys, with limited research applications.
I'm an inventor, so naturally I was curious to see what could happen if we took all of our previous thoughts about the “need to have” features in AFMs and threw them out of the window. The evolution of CAD and the internet has facilitated huge innovations in elegant low-cost design opportunities. Why were those opportunities not being passed along to more scientists, engineers and educators? I started AFMWorkshop to open the doors wider to research, innovation and education.
WS - Can you give us an overview of AFMWorkshop's products and services?
PW - Our first product, the TT-AFM, is a high-value atomic force microscope for nanotechnology researchers, instrument innovators, and educators. Our second product, the NP-AFM, is for process development/control applications.
Our services include unique workshops for customers to learn the theories behind the instrumentation they are using by building their own microscopes. While we do offer fully assembled microscopes with professional installations, those customers who go through the week-long AFM-building workshop really appreciate their newly gained insights.
They develop new ideas about how to fix any problems they encounter, along with the ability to modify instrumentation for unique research needs. These skills then create more cost-saving on a long-term basis. For example, why pay a tech support person's fees and lose time waiting for their arrival when you can fix it yourself? Our pricing structures and designs are transparent and open.
WS: You have recently announced a competition to win a free AFM. Why did you decide to run the competition?
PW - First I want to clarify, this is not a competition. We're offering this as a Giveaway – so winning is just about luck, not skill. But to answer the question: we're a relatively new company with a very different approach to AFM instrumentation. Sponsoring this “Win An AFM” Giveaway was the most effective way for us to let our potential users know that demanding research needs can be met and are now just about within everyone's grasp financially.
WS - Can you tell us a bit about the AFM the winner will receive?
PW - The winner will receive one of our TT-AFM’s. The TT-AFM is not a toy, and it is not designed solely for education/demonstration. The TT-AFM is suitable for imaging atomic terraces on silicon, 1nm-diameter nanoparticles, DNA, and many other demanding applications.
A unique aspect of the TT-AFM is its open architecture, so in addition to the full TT-AFM system, the Giveaway winner will receive mechanical drawings, LabView VI's and schematics.
The TT-AFM from AFMWorkshop
WS - You say that the TT-AFM is suitable for research applications – what features are present on more expensive AFMs that the TT-AFM doesn’t have?
PW - The advanced research, very expensive AFMs have many features that are developed for very specific groups of researchers. These features are not used by a large majority of users, so many AFM customers end up paying for the development/installation of features that they'll never use.
With the TT-AFM, everything is open architecture, so if your application needs something the instrument doesn't offer, it's not a stretch to create your own design modifications. You don't have to pay for someone else's specifications.
WS - The winner will also receive some free training services - what will the training involve?
PW - The training in this case depends on the AFM Giveaway winner's decision: they can come to California and participate in a full 5-Day AFMWorkshop Build session – or, if they prefer, they can have the TT-AFM delivered to their institution with a professional installation. We're covering almost all of the expenses, no matter what their decision is.
The Build workshop consists of five days of training. The professional installation includes a couple days of on-site training. At the Build workshop, participants will receive theoretical and practical training in the design and operation of Atomic Force Microscopes, while the shorter Installation workshop reviews effective operation practices for the TT-AFM.
WS -How do people go about entering the Giveaway?
PW: There's a link on our website to the Entry Form for the Giveaway. And, if anyone wants to double their chances, they can also like us on Facebook. We'll be offering additional opportunities throughout the Win an AFM Giveaway for multiple entries.
WS - Where can we find more information about the giveaway, and about AFMWorkshop?
PW - The AFMWorkshop website is pretty extensive. All the product specifications and prices are listed for our AFMs and many of their additions and components.
About Dr Paul West
Dr. Paul West is the founder of the AFMWorkshop. Dr. West began his career working with scanning tunneling microscopes(STM) as a postdoc at the California Institute of Technology in 1983 where he built one of the first STM's. His career in the development and application of scanning probe microscopes spans over 25 years.
Paul pioneered the investigation of nanotechnology applications for scanning probe microscope(SPM) technology resulting in patents for nanoscale motion sensors(US Patent #5,009,111, nanoscale position sensors(US patent #5,257,024) and nanoscale digital mass storage(US patent # 4,956,817).
Thousands of atomic force microscopes developed by Dr. West are in use throughout the world and have resulted in numerous scientific publications, Ph.D. dissertations, and technical breakthroughs.
Dr. West is the author of numerous scientific, technical and educational publications. He served on the National Nanotechnology Initiative which resulted in the first major funding program for nanotechnology research in the United States.