A novel design of a scanning probe microscope integrated with an ultramicrotome for serial block-face nanotomography
We present a new concept of a combined scanning probe microscope (SPM)/ultramicrotome apparatus. It enables “slice-and-view” scanning probe nanotomography measurements and 3D reconstruction of the bulk sample nanostructure from series of SPM images after consecutive ultrathin sections. The sample is fixed on a flat XYZ scanning piezostage mounted on the ultramicrotome arm. The SPM measuring head with a cantilever tip and a laser-photodiode tip detection system approaches the sample for SPM measurements of the block-face surface immediately after the ultramicrotome sectioning is performed. The SPM head is moved along guides that are also fixed on the ultramicrotome arm. Thereby, relative dysfunctional displacements of the tip, the sample, and the ultramicrotome knife are minimized. The design of the SPM head enables open frontal optical access to the sample block-face adapted for high-resolution optical lenses for correlative SPM/optical microscopy applications. The new system can be used in a wide range of applications for the study of 3D nanostructures of biological objects, biomaterials, polymer nanocomposites, and nanohybrid materials in various SPM and optical microscopy measuring modes.