A highly sensitive displacement sensor for atomic force microscopy is described which enables one to measure the relative displacement of the tip from a sample surface. The sensor is based on the differential heterodyne interferometer formed between the reflections from the microscope cantilever backside and the sample surface. As a result of using an optical common-path construction, the sensor is essentially insensitive to the mechanical vibration, and achieves high stability at low frequencies, even though there are certain restrictions imposed by the reflection from the examined surface and the variable deflection mode. Images are presented demonstrating the atomic resolution of mica and graphite.
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