Non-contact scanning probe microscopy (SPM) has developed into a powerful technique to image many different properties of samples. The conventional method involves monitoring the amplitude, phase, or frequency of a cantilever oscillating at or near its resonant frequency as it is scanned across the surface of a sample. For high Q factor cantilevers, monitoring the resonant frequency is the preferred method in order to obtain reasonable scan times. This can be done by using a phase-locked-loop (PLL). PLLs can be obtained as commercial integrated circuits, but these do not have the frequency resolution required for SPM. To increase the resolution, all-digital PLLs requiring sophisticated digital signal processors or field programmable gate arrays have also been implemented. We describe here a hybrid analog/digital PLL where most of the components are implemented using discrete analog integrated circuits, but the frequency resolution is provided by a direct digital synthesis chip controlled by a simple peripheral interface controller (PIC) microcontroller. The PLL has excellent frequency resolution and noise, and can be controlled and read by a computer via a universal serial bus connection.
Electrical Engineering, Measurement and Control Technology