Highest Resolution Fast Scanning AFM – The Cypher S™

There is No Other AFM Like Cypher™

Higher resolution, faster, easier, more versatile

The Asylum Research Cypher™ AFMs are considered to be in a class of their own. Every design choice was guided to obtain an exceptional combination of highest resolution, integrated environmental control, fast scanning and supreme productivity.

Cypher AFMs come in two configurations:

  • Cypher S is perfect for materials and life science research under ambient conditions in liquid or air.
  • Cypher ES offers heating and cooling, gas and liquid perfusion, and supreme chemical compatibility for all applications that need environmental control.

Two-component polymer thin film

(Cover and above) Two-component polymer thin film imaged on Cypher ES
The film has a complex structure after a slow melting and recrystallization process. The original cover image was scanned over a 30 μm area at high pixel density, which then allowed a digital zoom into the 2 μm area shown above. See page 13 for further explanation and a movie of the process.

MoS2 deposited on epitaxial graphene

MoS2 deposited on epitaxial graphene
Molybdenum disulfide grown by chemical vapor deposition forms triangular terraces, 2 μm scan Subsequent growth precipitates a new nucleus on a previously grown triangle, thereby forming multilayered pyramids. Image courtesy I. Balla,S. Kim, and M. Hersam, Northwestern University.

All Cypher AFMs offer these key benefits

  • Regularly attain higher resolution than other AFMs
  • Fast scanning with results in seconds instead of minutes
  • Each step of operation is simpler for outstanding productivity
  • Small footprint in the lab, great potential to grow in capability
  • Support that goes above and beyond user expectations

Furthermore, Cypher ES makes it simple to control the AFM environment

  • Enables liquid and gas perfusion via a sealed cell
  • Controls sample temperature over a wide 0–250 °C range
  • Broadest compatibility with harsh chemicals

Cypher AFMs

No Other AFM Makes High Resolution This Easy

Scientists routinely get spectacular results using their Cypher AFMs

There’s plenty of room at the bottom.

Richard Feynman, Nobel Laureate Physicist

No other AFM will take users further or get them there faster.

Only Cypher allows users to effortlessly achieve the highest resolution

Cypher is not the first AFM to resolve atomic point defects, but it is considered to be the first AFM that makes these results regular. There are no special modes, tricks or luck involved. It is just what Cypher does well.

Calcite defects imaged in FM mode

Calcite defects imaged in FM mode
Single atomic point defects are resolved in successive scans. Imaged using frequencymodulated AC mode in water with blueDrive photothermal excitation, rather than conventional tapping mode (AM mode).

Crystalline lamella in polyethylene

Crystalline lamella in polyethylene
This AM-FM stiffness image shows lamella spacing of 0.89 nm, consistent with expected polymer chain packing. The larger spacing (lower right) corresponds to steps between stacked lamella terraces.

Calcite defects imaged in AM mode

Calcite defects imaged in AM mode
Like FM mode (image far left), conventional amplitude-modulated (AM) or tapping mode can also readily resolve single point defects. Here, the phase data is shown from an image taken using blueDrive in water.

Hexagonal boron nitride lattice

Hexagonal boron nitride lattice
Contact mode images in air show the atomic lattice spacing of 0.25 ± 0.01 nm. Image courtesy P. Beton, Univ. Nottingham. See related work in ACS Nano 10, 10347 (2015).

Graphene lattice

Graphene lattice
One of more than a thousand images collected over 7 h of unattended imaging using lateral force microscopy in air. Image courtesy N. Wilson, Univ. Warwick. See Nanotechnology 24, 255704 (2013).

Cesium ions adsorbed to mica

Cesium ions adsorbed to mica
Packing defects in the adsorbed ions were observed in successive images. Imaged using tapping mode in solution with blueDrive. Sample courtesy M. Valtiner, Max Planck Institut fur Eisenforschung.

Why Does Cypher Outperform Every Other AFM?

Supreme mechanical stability—Noise floor is half that of any other AFM sold today!

Cypher’s mechanical loop is stiff and short, resulting in a noise floor of <15 pm, at least 50% lower than any other AFM. It is the only AFM that regularly attains atomic resolution with no vibration isolation.

Exceptionally low drift—Features are undistorted and lattice lines are straight

Cypher has been designed for minimizing thermal drift and is wholly enclosed to rapidly obtain equilibrium. Optional active temperature control can almost entirely banish drift. Ultra-low-noise sensors allow closed-loop scanning even at the highest resolution, eliminating distortion from open-loop piezo creep.

Lowest noise electronics — No more guessing if periodic features are just noise or real

Electronic noise sources have been thoroughly identified and eliminated in order to prevent periodic artifacts that could obscure fine details or be confused with real features.

C8-BTBT epitaxial layer

C8-BTBT epitaxial layer
C8-BTBT is an organic molecular crystal being investigated for use in organic field effect transistors because of its high charge mobility. Here the molecular structure of an epitaxial film deposited on boron nitride was imaged using tapping mode in air. Sample courtesy X. Wang, Nanjing Univ. See Nat. Commun. 5, 5162 (2014).

β-DBDCS monocrystal

β-DBDCS monocrystal
β -DBDCS is an organic optoelectronic material that exhibits piezochromism. Here, it was imaged in water using tapping mode with blueDrive photothermal excitation. Sample courtesy S. Y. Park, Seoul National Univ., J. Gierschner, IMDEA Nanociencia, and E. Gnecco, Univ. Jena.

PTCDI-melamine network

PTCDI-melamine network
PTCDI and melamine form a porous 2D network when deposited from solution on a hexagonal boron nitride substrate. Molecular resolution images were obtained in air using contact mode, from which a lattice constant of 3.54 ± 0.04 nm was measured. Image courtesy P. Beton, Univ. Nottingham.

Porphyrin (TCPP) 2D arrays

Porphyrin (TCPP) 2D arrays
TCPP forms a 2D supramolecular network when adsorbed from solution on hexagonal boron nitride. Tapping mode images in air clearly show the square lattice with 2.24 ± 0.05 nm spacing. Image courtesy P. Beton, Univ. Nottingham.

Ordered phase at water-HOPG interface

Ordered phase at water-HOPG interface
The ordered phase forms spontaneously, with regularly spaced (1.59 nm) rows that exhibit a periodic (0.48 nm) structure. Similar structures have been attributed to adsorbed nitrogen [cf. Appl. Surf. Sci. 304, 56 (2014)], though others suggest they are formed by trace contaminants. Whatever the origin, tapping mode using blueDrive provides exquisite sub-nm molecular resolution.

EMIm TSFI ionic liquid (IL) Stern layer

EMIm TSFI ionic liquid (IL) Stern layer
The IL-HOPG interface was imaged using tapping mode in the bulk IL to better understand the electric double layer of this electrolyte as a function of surface potential and ion concentration. Surface exchange of ions and dynamics within the mobile molecules results in some waviness of the lattice rows. Image courtesy R. Atkin, Univ. Newcastle. See ACS Nano 9, 7608 (2015).

The Only Full-Featured Fast-Scanning AFM

Cypher finishes the whole job faster—with just one AFM and scanner!

Cypher AFMs are capable of doing it all — including fast scanning. Cypher scans fast and continues to supports a wide range of accessories and modes. Unlike other AFMs, there will never be a need to switch between different scanners to finish a task.

Real Productivity is Finishing the Whole Job Faster


Uses the fastest AFM probes

The Cypher small-spot laser module generates a spot of only 3×9 μm — much smaller than most AFMs and well-matched with the fastest probes.

Scans 10–100× faster

Cypher’s high speed electronics and high-bandwidth scanner combine with fast, small probes in order to deliver imaging rates 10–100× faster than typical AFMs. Users can scan an image at 256×256 pixel resolution within just a few seconds, or decrease scan lines and reach frame rates up to two frames per second.

Fast scanning that goes beyond just topography

Cypher scans fast when obtaining topographic images and it can also scan fast in other modes, including conductive AFM, AM-FM Viscoelastic Mapping Mode, and piezoresponse force microscopy.

Faster to set up and get started

The experiment does not start when the tip begins scanning. Setup time is also considered. Cypher shortens the whole time from start to finish.


Supports more measurement modes than any other fast scanning AFM

  • Includes all standard imaging modes
  • Provides high performance for low-noise, force mapping, accurate force curve and fast force mapping
  • Comes standard with a number of modes that are either optional or not available on other fast- scanning AFMs, including surface potential (KPFM), nanomanipulation and nanolithography, and piezoresponse force microscopy (PFM)
  • Comes standard with several modes not available on most AFMs, including DART, loss tangent imaging, switching spectroscopy PFM, Dual AC™, and vector PFM
  • Supports a number of optional modes not available on most fast-scanning AFMs, including AM-FM Viscoelastic Mapping Mode, conductive AFM, and Contact Resonance Viscoelastic Mapping Mode

Cypher ES incorporates high speed with easy-to-use environmental control

Cypher ES allows effortless monitoring of dynamic events that are driven by environmental changes.

PFM of BTO thin film

PFM of BTO thin film Piezoresponse Force Microscopy (PFM) phase image of an 8 nm thick BTO layer grown on a GaAs / Al0.3Ga0.7As heterojunction to make confined quantum wells. The sample was poled with a DC bias to create the pattern shown, 10 μm scan. Image courtesy of F. Bi oxinst.com/CypherImages and G. Jnawali, Levy Research Group, University of Pittsburgh

Cypher Has the Speed You Need

Capture movies to watch dynamic processes as they happen

Sublimation of an anthracene crystal in air

Sublimation of an anthracene crystal in air

(5 μm scan size, 192×192 pixels, height images in tapping mode at 20.8 Hz line rate, ~9 s per frame). Crystal terraces 0.9 nm high are observed moving at velocities of about 20 nm/s as the material sublimates, with step edges often becoming pinned at defects in the crystal (e.g., the edge that comes to a point at the defect marked with the green arrow). The edge begins to taper away from this defect in the second image but remains pinned, then pulls away from it in the third image. Many of the defects persist for the duration of the movie. However, in the fourth image we see a defect marked with an orange arrow that finally disappears. The full movie shows the surface evolution over three hours but is played back in one minute.

Surface reconstruction of a calcite crystal face

Surface reconstruction of a calcite crystal face

(2 μm scan size, 512×512 pixels, height images in tapping mode at 40 Hz line rate, ~13 s per frame). The surface of a freshly cleaved calcite crystal in humid air reconstructs on a time scale of minutes to hours. The reconstruction is known to be water driven, but there is still speculation about the structure and composition of the film. In addition to demonstrating the ability to capture dynamics, this movie nicely illustrates the exceptionally low Z noise floor of Cypher; the initial calcite steps are only about 300 pm tall. The full movie shows the reconstruction over a period of nearly five hours, played back in about thirty seconds.

High speed PFM on a periodically poled lithium niobate sample

High speed PFM on a periodically poled lithium niobate sample

(3 μm scan size, 256×256 pixels, phase images in PFM mode at 39 Hz line rate, ~6.5 s per frame). The test sample shown in this movie consists of an alternating pattern of oppositely poled stripe domains with a pitch of 10 μm. Just before the second image, a short (~0.5 s), high-voltage (-100 V) pulse was applied to the sample, distorting the domain boundary. An applied bias was then gradually increased, starting at 0 V and ending at 30 V, during which the domain boundary begins to recover to its original state. The full movie shows three sequences of this cycle.

Cypher Makes It Easy to Get Great Results

Software features that make AFM easier, faster and more consistent


  • Makes switching between modes simple and fast
  • Automatically configures the software for the chosen mode
  • Supports both advanced and basic imaging techniques


ModeMaster helps you get started quickly with both basic and advanced AFM tasks. Only a few of the many available modes are shown here.


  • Automated detector adjustment
  • Completely motorized laser and detector alignment
  • Click on the cantilever and the laser is aligned


  • Automatic process is fast, accurate and simple
  • Helps make AFM results more quantitative and more consistent
  • Calibrates the cantilever sensitivity and spring constant without touching the tip to the sample, keeping it undamaged and clean


  • Automatically sets optimal parameters for tapping mode imaging including drive amplitude, setpoint, scan rate and gain
  • Predictive algorithm is considered to be more robust than iterative optimization approaches that deviate to slow high forces and scan rates
  • Generates superior-quality data from the very first scan line — no tip or sample damage while waiting for “scan optimization”

MDMO-PPV:PCBM polymer/fullerene solar cell

MDMO-PPV:PCBM polymer/fullerene solar cell
Topography imaged using GetStarted in tapping mode, 2 μm scan. Image courtesy of P. Cox, M. Glaz, S. Vorpahl, and D. Ginger, University of Washington.

blueDrive™ Reinvents Tapping Mode

Remarkably simple. Strikingly accurate. Incredibly stable.

blueDrive is a Better Way to Tap

Tapping is the most commonly used AFM mode as it can measure topography and also electrical, mechanical, and magnetic properties. blueDrive makes use of light (photothermal excitation) instead of a piezo in order to drive the cantilever oscillation. Unlike a tapping piezo, blueDrive directly acts on the cantilever and does not excite any other system resonances.

blueDrive tunes are stable, clean and closely match the theoretical response.

Simple cantilever tunes

Automatically tune the cantilever by using blueDrive, even in liquid. There is no guesswork in selecting the correct peak.

There is never a “forest of peaks” like what is seen when using piezo drive for tapping in liquid.

(Left) Tunes for an AC40 cantilever in water.
(Right) Amplitude stability under the same conditions.

Remarkably stable imaging

The driving force employing blueDrive continues to be constant over time, thus the cantilever amplitude remains stable.

Image for hours with no setpoint adjustments.

More quantitative results

The cantilever response is considered to be a rich source of information. With blueDrive, the response matches theory and can be measured, tracked and then modeled with higher precision and accuracy.

blueDrive produces better results!


Rendering showing the detection laser focused near the tip and the blueDrive laser focused near the base. (Inset) Actual optical image showing the laser spot positions on an Olympus AC160 probe. Note the blueDrive spot is very small, so it is compatible with both standard and small, fast-scanning cantilevers.

Point defects in adsorbed cesium ions on mica

Point defects in adsorbed cesium ions on mica Even after 12 h of continuous unsupervised imaging, the tip was undamaged and resolved atomic point defects. Imaged with tapping mode in 1 M CsCl solution using blueDrive.

Most Powerful Tools for Quantitative Nanomechanics

Measure viscoelastic properties including both storage and loss moduli

There is no single best nanomechanical technique for every application.

A few techniques from the Asylum NanomechPro™ Toolkit are provided below:

AM-FM Viscoelastic Mapping Mode

  • Good for samples from 50 kPa to 300 GPa
  • Fast—line scan rates up to 20 Hz are possible
  • Tapping mode technique that measures both the elastic storage modulus, E’, and the viscoelastic loss tangent, tan δ = E’’/E’

Contact Resonance

Viscoelastic Mapping Mode

  • Good for samples from 1 GPa to 300 GPa
  • Contact mode technique that measures both storage modulus, E’, and loss modulus, E’’

Fast Force Mapping Mode

  • Force-distance curve mapping mode that works at up to 1000 Hz pixel rate
  • Captures every force curve in the image, with no hidden data manipulation or missing curves
  • Captures both deflection and height sensor data for correct measurement of both axes
  • Real-time and offline analysis models can be used for calculating modulus, adhesion and various other properties. Models are completely accessible by users for modification and verification.
  • Good for samples from 10 kPa to 100 GPa

Poly(styrene-(ethylene-ran-butadiene)-styrene) triblock copolymer (SEBS)

Poly(styrene-(ethylene-ran-butadiene)-styrene) triblock copolymer (SEBS) spin-coated onto a silicon wafer and imaged using AM-FM Viscoelastic Mapping Mode. Elastic modulus is shown on 3D topography, 750 nm scan.

Titanium (E’≈110 GPa) thin film on silicon (E’≈160 GPa)

Titanium (E’≈110 GPa) thin film on silicon (E’≈160 GPa) imaged using Contact Resonance Viscoelastic Mapping Mode. Elastic modulus is shown on 3D topography, 25 μm scan.

Polystyrene-polypropylene polymer blend thin film

Polystyrene-polypropylene polymer blend thin film imaged using Fast Force Mapping mode. Elastic modulus is shown on 3D topography, 6 μm scan.

Highest Sensitivity Electrical Measurements

Unmatched range of nanoelectrical and electromechanical techniques

Electrostatic Force Microscopy (EFM)

  • Measures electrostatic force gradient

Kelvin Probe Force Microscopy (KPFM)

  • Measures sample surface potential and work function

Conductive AFM (CAFM)

  • Measures DC current from 1 pA to >10 μA

Fast Current Mapping Mode

  • Collects complete current vs. Z curves at each pixel
  • Measures current in Fast Force Mapping Mode to reduce lateral forces

Scanning Microwave Impedance Microscopy (sMIM)

  • Operates on insulating, semiconductor and conductive materials
  • Measures both conductivity and permittivity in contact or Fast Force Mapping Mode

Piezoresponse Force Microscopy (PFM)

  • High sensitivity and crosstalk-free measurements
  • Higher sensitivity is allowed by operating at high voltages (up to ±150 V) and at the tip-sample contact resonance frequency (DART Mode)

Electrochemical Strain Microscopy (ESM)

  • Directly measures effect of ionic currents on mechanical strain
  • Probe electrochemical reactivity and ionic flows in energy storage and energy generation materials

Photocurrent in a Eu-doped ZnO thin film

Photocurrent in a Eu-doped ZnO thin film
Doped zinc oxide films are potential photocatalytic materials, because the dopant narrows the band gap enough to allow photoexcitation by visible light. Here, CAFM was used to measure the photocurrent induced by the blueDrive laser, which was aligned just off the end of the cantilever. Current is shown on 3D topography, 5 μm scan.

PFM image of PVDF polymer

PFM image of PVDF polymer
The piezoelectric response of PVDF is widely exploited in tactile sensors. PFM lateral amplitude is shown on 3D topography, 2 μm scan. Sample courtesy D. Guo, Institute of Acoustics, Chinese Academy of Science.

KPFM image of silver nanoparticle layers

KPFM image of silver nanoparticle layers
The work function of the deposited layers can be tuned by varying the chemistry of an organic SAM that caps the particles. Surface potential is shown on 3D topography, 10 μm scan. See P. Wang et. al, Appl. Phys. Lett. 107, 151601 (2015).

Explore the Most Extreme Nanoscale Worlds

Cypher can go where other AFMs cannot go. Present below are just three examples of what Cypher offers that others do not.

  • The first and only uncompromised AFM experience in a glovebox

Cypher effortlessly images single atomic point defects, even with glovebox pumps running. The detector adjustment, motorized laser alignment, and engage process are controlled from software.

Using Cypher in a glovebox is similar to using it normally. No other AFM can say that.

  • Exclusive blueDrive allows operation in highly viscous ionic liquids

blueDrive photothermal excitation efficiently drives the cantilever oscillation in tapping mode, even in greatly viscous environments like ionic liquids.

Only a Cypher with blueDrive allows imaging in liquid to be this simple and stable.

  • Supreme compatibility with aggressive chemical environments

The Cypher ES offers matchless chemical compatibility for operating in aggressive liquid and vapor environments. Liquids just touch the sample, the fused silica probe holder window, and a stainless steel or PEEK cantilever clip.

The Cypher ES can carry out experiments that would destroy other AFMs.

Calcite defects imaged with Cypher in a glovebox

Calcite defects imaged with Cypher in a glovebox
The pumps were disabled for the top half of the scan, then turned on for the bottom half. There’s no observable effect on the image quality despite the vibration. No extra vibration isolation was used.

Titanium dioxide substrate

Titanium dioxide substrate
imaged in a viscous liquid, 5 μm scan blueDrive allowed the cantilever to be driven cleanly in the liquid, while conventional piezoacoustic excitation did not.

SEBS polymer film annealing in toluene vapor
Toluene rapidly degrades the materials most often used in O-rings and other seals. However, the Cypher ES membrane is made from an advanced fluoropolymer that withstands a wide range of chemicals.



X and Y range 30 μm (closed-loop)
X and Y sensor noise <60 pm
Out of plane motion <3 nm in Z over XY range
Z range >5 μm
Z sensor noise <50 pm
Sample size up to 15 mm diameter, 7 mm thick. Samples can be moved for selecting an imaging area employing software controlled stick-slip motion.
Engage process Using software controls, the user concentrates on the tip and then on the sample in order to find the estimated separation distance. An automatic motorized process then takes over in order to engage rapidly and without damaging the tip.

Cantilever Deflection Sensing

Four modules are available (purchased separately):

Standard Laser Module: Modulated laser diode source with nominal 10×30 μm spot size. Suggested for most imaging applications.

Standard SLD Module: Superluminescent diode (SLD) source with nominal 10×30 μm spot size. Recommended for contact mode and force curves.

Laser Diode Small Spot Module: Modulated laser diode source with nominal 3×9 μm spot size. Essential for most imaging applications with small cantilevers.

SLD Small Spot Module: Superluminescent Diode source with nominal 3×9 μm spot size. Suggested for contact mode and force curves when employing small cantilevers.

All modules share these specifications:

DC detector noise <5 pm
Wavelength 850 nm
AC detector noise <25 fm⋅Hz -½ above 100 kHz
Detector bandwidth DC to 7 MHz

Spot positioning and detector adjustment are completely motorized and software controlled.

Imaging Performance

AC height noise <15 pm
DC height noise <15 pm
XY Drift <200 nm/°C change in lab temperature. Optional temperature control module decreases this to <20 nm /°C.

(Noise measurements are quoted as the average deviation measured with a 1 kHz bandwidth over a total of 10 seconds.)

Top-view Bright-Field Optics

Field of view 690×920 μm
Resolution Diffraction limited (<1 μm), NA=0.45
Illumination Intensity is software controlled. Manual controls for the aperture and field diaphragms.

Instrument Isolation

Vibration <10 pm coupling into deflection for 1 mm/s2 floor acceleration when using only the built-in passive isolation. No further isolation is needed for typical laboratories.

Acoustic Included enclosure offers 20 dB of isolation.

Included Operating Modes

Contact mode; Dual AC; Electric force microscopy (EFM); Force curves; Dual AC Resonance Tracking (DART); Force mapping mode (force volume); Force modulation; Frequency modulation; Lateral force mode (LFM); Loss tangent imaging; Kelvin probe force microscopy (KPFM); Magnetic force microscopy (MFM); Nanolithography and nanomanipulation; Phase imaging; Piezoresponse force microscopy (PFM); Switching spectroscopy PFM; Tapping mode with digital Q control; Vector PFM; Tapping mode (AC mode)

Optional Operating Modes

Contact Resonance Viscoelastic Mapping Mode; AM-FM Viscoelastic Mapping Mode; Fast Force Mapping Mode; Conductive AFM (CAFM) with ORCA and Eclipse Mode; Current mapping with Fast Force Mapping; Electrochemical Strain Microscopy (ESM); High voltage PFM; Scanning microwave impedance microscopy (sMIM); Scanning tunneling microscopy (STM); Nanoscale Time Dependent Dielectric Breakdown (nanoTDDB)

Other Options and Accessories

blueDrive photothermal excitation is available on both Cypher ES and Cypher S systems.

Liquid cantilever holder for Cypher S offers a low-evaporation chamber for measurements in liquid.

Environmental control accessories for Cypher ES are available.

Note: The company constantly adds new capabilities to its AFMs.

Service and Support

Support No-charge technical support and expert applications support for the lifetime of the AFM

Warranty Full two-year comprehensive warranty

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