Welcome to the SUL

Your company wants to develop a new plasma-coating process for a specific fiber material and you need to understand the adhesive properties of the components involved. Or you are developing tools and you want to make them «corrosion-proof». Or you want to assess the critical dimensions of your semiconductor devices. Or the coarseness of a surface that had just been treated by your novel polishing method.
At the SUL, your problems can be solved.
Hans Josef Hug

The SUL is a newly established user laboratory thatoffers a wide range of services and opportunities for industrial and academic partners alike. This is an invitation to explore the SUL and its facilities –and maybe the first step to a fruitful and successful collaboration with us.

Many state-of-the-art technical applications critically depend on structural,physical or chemical properties of surfaces or coatings on a nano- or microscale level. These properties include corrosion resistance, wear behaviour and mechanical strength, which are all determined by their surface(structure). Hence, local analysis of surfaces and their properties will, inmany cases, be of crucial importance for the performance and reliability of modern materials and devices. These analytical methods became reality with the advent of nanotechnology.

Nanoscience and nanotechnology saw the light of day with the development of a new family of analytical instruments based on the Scanning Tunneling Microscope (STM), first developed in 1982 at IBM Research Laboratory Zurich. The most prominent and versatile member of the growing family of scanning probe microscopes is certainly the Atomic or Scanning Force Microscope (AFM or SFM).

The SFM is used to image surfaces with up to atomic resolution but also to determine or even modify local material properties with a lateral resolution in the nanometer range. Among the material properties that can be assayed with the SFM are local mechanical properties such as the sample’s topography, local stiffness, electrical properties such as local resistivity, charge density and contact potential, as well as chemical properties such as local contact potential and adhesion. Local magnetic properties, piezo response and corrosion properties can be mapped with high spatial resolution.

By further functionalizing the SFM probe it is possible to selectively investigate the local chemical or biological structure of the sample. But the SFM is not only able to image a sample it can also selectively modify it by nanolithographing in a so called “bottom-up” approach. However, as with most highly specialized analytical equipment, the reproducible acquisition of data is only the first step towards an in-depth understanding or the solution of a problem. In many cases data interpretation or the detailed choice of the specific instrument or operational mode is crucial for success.

At the Swiss Scanning Probe Microscopy User Laboratory (SUL) at Empa in Dübendorf, a number of SFMs are installed to tackle a wide range of surface analytical problems. Professional staff with decades of fore-front research experience in scanning probe microscopy is looking forward to meeting your challenges – be it through providing service measurements, consulting on technical questions or data interpretation or training/education on the SFM. With the SUL we extend one of Empa’s crucial traditional roles – namely to provide highest-level services and training to industrial and academic partners in the field of nanotechnology.


See you soon at the SUL, your service lab for materials analysis on the nanoscale!

Prof. Dr Hans Josef Hug