Asylum Research


The Cypher™ Atomic Force Microscope
The Highest Resolution Fast Scanning AFM


Cypher AFMIntroduction

Closed Loop Atomic Resolution

SpotOn™ Automated Laser Alignment

Laser Spot Sizes as Small as 3µm

Designed from the Ground Up
for Superior System-Wide Performance

blueDrive™ Photothermal Excitation

Interchangeable Laser/SLD Modules

High Resolution Top-view Optics

Integrated Enclosure Allows for Thermal Control

The World’s Highest Resolution AFM

Scanning Modes

Service, Support and Warranty

Choose Your AFM

User Testimonials




Decode the Nanoworld with the Next Generation of AFM

You’ve been expecting something genuinely new from the AFM/SPM industry, but for many years you’ve only seen tweaks to old technology. Now Asylum Research introduces the Cypher™ AFM, the first totally new small sample AFM/SPM in over a decade. More capability, more control, more functionality, more modularity, and more resolution – all with >20X faster scanning and striking ease of use.


Closed loop atomic resolution using sensors in all three axes ensures the highest resolution and most accurate images possible today.

With the Cypher AFM, you no longer have to choose between the accuracy and control of closed loop and the low noise of open loop. Asylum’s third generation NanoPositioning System (NPS™) sensors are the quietest in the world today.

With positioning accuracies better than 60 picometers in X, Y and Z, you not only achieve atomic resolution in closed loop, you also get the most accurate measurements, positioning and nanomanipulation possible.



Closed loop STM showing graphite atoms, 6nm scan.


SpotOn™ automated laser alignment provides extraordinary ease of use. With Cypher’s fully motorized laser and photodiode positioning, a mouse click aligns the laser spot on your cantilever and centers your photodetector.

Play SpotOn Video


SpotOn Alignment

SpotOn Alignment Just click on the desired spot location and the motorized stages automatically align the laser spot. The photodiode signals are also automatically centered.


Laser spot sizes as small as 3µm enable high-speed AC imaging with small cantilevers. Cypher provides the industry’s smallest spot size, allowing you to use cantilevers smaller than 10µm for fast imaging and sub-picoNewton force measurements.


Play Fast Scan Videos


Small Cantilevers

>20X Faster Scanning Small cantilevers provide much higher resonant frequencies than conventional cantilevers without an increase in stiffness.


The blueDrive Photothermal Excitation option makes tapping mode imaging simpler, more stable, and more quantitative. blueDrive produces an almost ideal cantilever response by directly exciting the cantilever photothermally. This provides significant ease of use and performance benefits for imaging topography, mechanical, electrical, and magnetic properties in air and liquids.


Designed from the Ground Up
for Superior System-Wide Performance

Cypher’s proprietary system-level mechanical design is inherently immune to normal environmental vibration, eliminating the need for additional isolation add-ons for most labs. The integrated system enclosure allows for thermal control and provides additional acoustic isolation for noisy environments.

This system-level design creates images of atomically flat samples that are free of periodic noise. Cypher also features unimpeded 180 degree optical/mechanical access to your samples and a small 40x42cm footprint that conserves lab space.



Interchangeable modules broaden your options for applications and scanning modes. MultiLux™ source modules are available with laser diodes and low-coherence SLDs in a variety of spot sizes to provide optimal signal-to-noise over a wide range of cantilever lengths. Module exchange takes only a minute.  

MultiLux Optics

MultiLux Optics The focused spot size can easily be changed to fit the size of the cantilever being used. Here, two different spot sizes are shown on two different cantilevers. The small spot has dimensions of 3x9µm.


High resolution top-view optics with Köhler illumination provide crystal clear viewing of your sample and tip. Cypher’s custom optics with 20X objective are limited only by physical diffraction. You’ll see sub-micron resolution over a 690x920µm field of view with digital zoom and pan.  

High Resolution Optics

Diffraction-limited Optics 3.1 megapixel top view image shows AFM calibration grating (20µm pitch) with inset of 8X digital zoom.


Cypher’s integrated enclosure allows for thermal control and acoustic isolation to optimize imaging and measurement stability. Achieve >10X improvement in thermal drift compared to older, less advanced SPMs.  
Thermal Control


The World’s Highest Resolution AFM

With the Cypher AFM, you can do things that are simply not possible with other AFMs. Here are some examples of how the Cypher AFM can help you decode the nanoworld.


Graphite Defect

Closed loop image of domains of surfactant hemi-micelles surrounding a defect on graphite, 200nm scan.



Dual AC

Closed loop Dual AC Mode image of collagen. Second mode amplitude is overlaid on topography, 300nm scan.


Closed loop AC mode image showing the molecular level ordering of cetyl palmitate adsorbed onto HOPG, 150nm scan.




Closed loop image of Lambda digest DNA imaged in buffer, 530nm scan.



Closed loop image of cleavage defects on graphite surface, 1.7µm scan.






Stretching of DNA molecule showing B-S transition and mechanical melting.


Open loop AC mode image of calcite in water, 15nm scan, 1Å height scale. The point defects remained visible through several images demonstrating true atomic resolution.



Closed loop AC mode image of extracellular face of bacteriorhodopsin in buffer, 50nm scan, 5Å height scale. G.M. King Lab, University of Missouri-Columbia.


Scanning Modes


  • Contact: Uses feedback on deflection. Height, deflection, and lateral force (LFM) signals available.
  • AC: Uses feedback on amplitude. Signals available include height, amplitude/phase, I/Q, deflection, lateral; digital Q-control included.
  • Force: Force curve acquisition and mapping in contact or AC mode. Triggering/feedback allow for a wide variety of force curve modes.
  • Dual AC™: Provides multiple frequency drives and analyses for bimodal and harmonic measurements and imaging.
  • Piezoresponse Force Microscopy (PFM): Enables high sensitivity, high bias and crosstalk free measurements of piezo materials.
  • Electric Force Microscopy (EFM)
  • Magnetic Force Microscopy (MFM)
  • Surface Potential
  • Nanolithography
  • Nanomanipulation
  • Frequency Modulation (FM)
  • Operation in fluid


  • Conductive AFM with ORCA™ Module: Provides low-current measurements at constant applied voltage for electrical characterization.
  • Scanning Tunneling Microscopy (STM)
  • blueDrive Photothermal Excitation
  • Band Excitation for measurement of materials properties.


Unbreakable Nanocode?
Crack It with the Cypher AFM and the Asylum Research Team

You need the new Cypher AFM to make tomorrow’s discoveries and to keep your facility first in science. With capabilities far beyond those of older SPMs – and modularity and expandability for the future – the Cypher AFM can help you be a leader in decoding the nanoworld.

Personalized, Exceptional Support

Asylum’s legendary product and applications support ensures you get up and running quickly and achieve optimum results. Asylum is the clear leader in customer satisfaction. If you’re not already an Asylum user, just ask one (or ask us for a reference). We extend this personalized support by being virtually in your lab with “OnSight” – a remote support system that lets us view, diagnose and control your system over the Internet.

Lowest Cost of Ownership

The Cypher includes a full two-year warranty that covers all parts and labor, including shipping and any required travel expenses, for problems occurring due to normal usage. Because of our robust, reliable systems, you can be sure that the cost of ownership will remain low even beyond the warranty period. In the unlikely event that a repair is needed, you can be assured of the fastest turnaround time in the industry. Extended system warranties are priced fairly and competitively for additional predictability in the long term.


Seek Asylum for the Most Advanced AFM/SPM Technology and Tools

Choose the Cypher AFM for:

  • Closed loop imaging from tens of microns down to atomic scales
  • Small cantilevers for high-speed scanning
  • High-speed, low-noise force measurements
  • High-bandwidth data acquisition
  • Diffraction-limited optical sample viewing/imaging
  • Automated laser alignment

Choose MFP-3D™ AFM for:

  • Large closed loop scan area
  • Compatibility with inverted optical microscopes
  • Sample viewing from top and bottom
  • Long-range, low-noise force measurements
  • Widest range of accessories
  • Flexible mounting for various sample shapes and sizes
  • Quantitative nanoindentation


Cypher AFM Specifications

Head/Optical Lever

  • DC Detector Noise*: <5pm
  • AC Detector Noise: <25fm/√Hz above 100kHz
  • Photodiode Bandwidth: DC to 7MHz
  • Light Source: User selectable/exchangeable. Options include superluminescent diodes and laser diodes. Wavelength is fixed at 850nm.
  • Spot Size: User selectable/exchangeable. Focused spots range in size from 10x30µm down to 3x9µm.
  • Controls: Focused spot positioning and photodiode centering controls are motorized and fully controllable from the software.

*Noise measurements are quoted as average deviation (Adev) in a 0.1Hz to 1kHz bandwidth unless otherwise noted.


A variety of scanner modules are available depending on application. All scanner modules include XYZ actuation as well as a motorized cantilever engage stage. The standard scanner module specs are listed below:

  • Scan Range: XY range is 30/40µm (closed/open loop). Z range is 5/6µm.
  • XYZ Sensor Noise*: NPS™ Digital LVDT sensors. XY noise is <60pm. Z noise is <50pm. Closed loop scan performance achieves lattice resolution (<10nm scans) with feedback gains equivalent to large scan (>1µm) values.
  • XYZ Open Loop Noise
  • XY: <8pm Adev in a 1Hz to 10kHz BW
  • Z: <4pm Adev in a 1Hz to 10kHz BW
  • Vibration Immunity: <10pm coupling into deflection for 1mm/s2 floor acceleration
  • XY Sample Drift: <20/200nm/°C (with/without temperature control module)
  • Out-of-Plane Motion: <3nm over closed loop scan range
  • Sample Dimensions: 15/7mm (diameter/thickness)
  • Sample Environment: Standard environments are ambient, droplet, or low evaporation/perfusion chamber.

*Noise measurements are quoted as average deviation (Adev) in a 0.1Hz to 1kHz bandwidth unless otherwise noted.


DC Height Noise*: <15pm (<5pm in quiet environments)
AC Height Noise*: <15pm

View Module

A variety of view modules providing top-down optical view of the sample/cantilever are possible depending on the application. The standard view module specifications are listed below:

  • Configuration: Bright field/reflected light
  • Illumination: LED based Köhler illumination with manual controls for the aperture and field diaphragms. Intensity is software controlled.
  • Resolution: Diffraction limited performance (<1µm) with apochromatic correction. NA = 0.45
  • Field of View: 690x920µm
  • Camera: 3.1 megapixel CMOS camera with FireWire interface. Digital zoom/pan/capture; software controlled white balance, shutter speed, and binning.


  • ADCs
    - Two 16-bit, 80MHz
    - One 16-bit, 5MHz
    - Six 18-bit, 2MHz
    - Five 16-bit, 100kHz
  • Capture Buffer
    - 512MB
  • DACs
    - Four 16-bit, 40MHz
    - One 16-bit, 10MHz
    - Four 24-bit, 1.25MHz
    - One 24-bit, 400kHz
    - Five 24-bit, 100kHz
  • Firmware Devices
    - Firmware upgradable devices that run real-time SPM specific operations. Modules included are: lock-in amplifiers, Q-control, IIR filters, and feedback loops.
  • FPGAs
    - Four Field Programmable Gate Arrays running at up to 667MHz.
  • Processors
    - Floating point DSP running at 80MHz
    - Dual-core NIOS in FPGA
  • Dual-Frequency Digital Lock-in Amplifiers
    - Two dual-frequency quadrature lock-ins, 20MHz
    - One dual-frequency quadrature lock-in, 5MHz
  • Frequency Synthesizer
    - Two dual-frequency synthesizers output at 40MHz. Frequency range DC to 15MHz in 9mHz steps.
    - One dual-frequency synthesizer output at 10MHz. Frequency range DC to 2MHz in 2mHz steps.
  • Dual Quadrature Outputs
    - R1,21,2 (amplitude/phase)
    - I1,2/Q1,2 (Rcosθ/Rsinθ) for each lock-in
  • Digital Q-control
    - 2kHz – 20MHz
  • Feedback loops
    - Multiple proportional-integral gain controllers and more advanced controllers (such as H). At a minimum there are:
    --Six loops running at 100kHz
    --Ten loops running at 2MHz
  • IIR Filters
    - Infinite Impulse Response (IIR) filters running at 2MHz and 100kHz. There are four types of software controllable IIR filters (DC to 50kHz): low pass, high pass, band pass, and band stop.
  • Crosspoint Switches
    - One 32 by 32 digitally controlled switch
    - One 16 by 16 digitally controlled switch
  • Power Supplies
    - Low voltage: +15, +7, 3.3V
    - High voltage: 150V
    - Optional: +150V for PFM
  • Software Controlled Relays
    - XY high voltage
    - Z high voltage
    - Laser power
  • USB Computer to Controller Communication
    - Compatible with most computers running WinXP or Windows 7 (including laptops)
  • High Voltage Noise
    - <70uV Adev in 1Hz to 10kHz bandwidth (50uV typ.) in all three axes

Data Acquisition

Data size is limited only by the memory on the PC (10 million point and 8k x 8k images are possible). Additionally, a continuously running circular fast capture buffer allows high speed data to be sent to the computer at any time.


Minimum: Dell Precision T3500 mini-tower, 2.80GHz Quad Core, 6GB RAM, dual 320GB RAID 1 hard drives, 16x DVD writer, dual 20" LCD panels (30" optional), 1GB video card, 8 USB ports, 2 Fire Wire ports, Windows 7 64bit (WinXP optional).


The software is based in IGOR Pro by WaveMetrics, a powerful scientific data acquisition and analysis environment. The software is user programmable.

Features include:

  • Nonlinear curve fitting to arbitrary user-defined functions.
  • Extensive image analysis including 2D FFTs, wavelet transformations, convolutions, line profiles, particle analysis, edge detection (eight methods, including Sobel), and thresholding (five methods, including fuzzy entropy).
  • Automatic spectral fitting and calibration of cantilever spring constants using thermal noise and Sader method.
  • Easy generation of scientific publication quality graphs and page layouts.

ARgyle™: OpenGL® 3D rendering technology for advanced image display.

  • Generate, display, and visualize 3D images in real-time while scanning or doing off-line processing.
  • Overlay alternate channel data with primary to view feature correlation.
  • Independent scaling of axes for true 1:1 aspect ratio.
  • Mouse-driven rotating, panning, scaling, and lighting control of images.
  • Export 3D images to clipboard, JPEG, TIFF, BMP, PNG.
  • Stereo anaglyph creation from 3D images.

Instrument Isolation

  • Vibration: Included passive vibration isolation with fo=7Hz, Q~1. The Cypher AFM exhibits exceptional vibration immunity, and even for high resolution work no further isolation is necessary in typical lab environments. Additional isolation may be needed for unusually noisy environments.
  • Acoustic: Included acoustic enclosure provides 20dB of isolation.
  • Temperature: Included enclosure allows for 0.1°C temperature stabilization with optional temperature control module.

Cypher is a Class 1 Laser Product


User Testimonials

"Cypher is truly the first third generation AFM. The Asylum Research folks have looked at everything that limited AFM performance in the past and addressed all of them in this new design. Cypher has better resolution, less noise, less drift, is more accurate, is able to scan faster and, on top of that, is the easiest to use AFM I have ever seen -- and I’ve seen pretty much all of them while doing AFM since the first DI AFM was introduced 20 years ago.

In terms of speed and ease of use, my student timed how long it took him to be successfully imaging from the time he walked in the door -- 90 seconds! He accomplished in two hours what would have taken a whole day on our existing Veeco AFM. I had previously burned months of graduate student effort on AFM projects that were not successful in getting the images we wanted. With the Cypher we can get most of these images the first time – much faster than before and without using special cantilevers."

Bruce Parkinson, University of Wyoming

"Cypher, from my understanding the first one built, generated publication-quality data on the show room floor at MRS 2008. I think this says it all, an AFM so stable it can image molecular conformation in protein nanofabrics ~10nm thick in the old Hynes exhibition hall with thousands of people in attendance and trains running underneath. Cypher clearly sets the standard in terms of performance. Plus, Asylum Research also has the best service in the business."

Adam Feinberg, Harvard University


"The Cypher is the best AFM I have ever used. For our group it has allowed seamless integration of spectroscopic modes for probing contact mechanics in polymers, ionic diffusion in energy storage and generation materials, and polarization switching in ferroelectrics and multiferroics in one flexible, high-stability platform. Cypher makes the work we do possible."

Stephen Jesse, Oak Ridge National Laboratory


"Our new Cypher system is exceptional in terms of performance, automation, imaging speed and ease of use. I'm already recommending Cypher to my AFM colleagues."

Bryan Huey, University of Connecticut


"Cypher is by far the best, most stable and most configurable AFM I have ever used"

Andras Kis, EPFL Switzerland

“Cypher is one fantastic AFM.   It sets the standard for both resolution and ease of use.  It makes routine characterization easy and opens many possibilities for high resolution imaging. We're really excited to have this instrument in our lab.”

Raymond R. Dagastine, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, University of Melbourne


“We were delighted to host a team of researchers from Asylum Research to the LCN in London to demonstrate the capabilities of their new Cypher atomic force microscope. During this three-day event, our researchers had the chance to try this new high resolution microscope and were left with a very positive experience. I believe Cypher is one of if not the best high performance AFM on the market. It shines by its combination of high-resolution and ease of use.”

Laurent Bozec, London Centre for Nanotechnology (LCN)


“Cypher is a great machine and I am very excited by the research possibilities.”

Kislon Voitchovsky, MIT


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