Scanning probe microscopes (SPM) are nano instruments that are used to study the surface of materials at the nanoscale. The two major kinds are the scanning tunneling microscope (STM) and the atomic force microscope (AFM). SPM enables resolution of features down to about 1 nanometer in height, allowing imaging of single atoms under ideal conditions.
Both scanning probe microscopes can provide pictures of atoms on or in surfaces. The study of surfaces is an important part of physics, with particular applications in semiconductor physics and microelectronics. In chemistry, surface chemical reactions also play an important part, for example, in the process of catalysis. A catalyst is a substance that produces a change that is used to increase the rate of a chemical reaction by creating conditions that make the reaction easier to proceed.
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