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Piezoelectric actuation of atomic force microscope (AFM) cantilevers often suffers from spurious mechanical resonances in the loop between the signal driving the cantilever and the actual tip motion. These spurious resonances can reduce the accuracy of AFM measurements and in some cases completely obscure the cantilever response. To address these limitations, we developed a specialized AFM cantilever holder for electrostatic actuation of AFM cantilevers. The holder contains electrical contacts for the AFM cantilever chip, as well as an electrode (or electrodes) that may be precisely positioned with respect to the back of the cantilever. By controlling the voltages on the AFM cantilever and the actuation electrode(s), an electrostatic force is applied directly to the cantilever, providing a near-ideal transfer function from drive signal to tip motion. We demonstrate both static and dynamic actuations, achieved through the application of direct current and alternating current voltage schemes, respectively. As an example application, we explore contact resonance atomic force microscopy, which is a technique for measuring the mechanical properties of surfaces on the sub-micron length scale. Using multiple electrodes, we also show that the torsional resonances of the AFM cantilever may be excited electrostatically, opening the door for advanced dynamic lateral force measurements with improved accuracy and precision.


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