In this letter a thermally driven frequency modulated atomic force microscopy (FM-AFM) technique is developed. Thermal fluctuations of the cantilever are employed to estimate the cantilever’s equivalent resonant frequency. The corresponding cantilever oscillations are the smallest possible at a given temperature. Related experiments that establish the feasibility of thermally driven FM-AFM in ambient room conditions have achieved tip-sample separations less than 2nm with long term separation stability (>30min). Employing this method a narrowband 250Hz modulation of the tip-sample separation was detected with a vertical resolution of 0.25Å in a 0.4Hz bandwidth. The corresponding estimated force sensitivity is 7 fN. In all experiments the cantilever tip was maintained in the attractive regime of the tip-sample interactions. This demonstrates a thermally driven non-contact mode operation of AFM. It also provides a limits of performance study of small amplitude FM-AFM methods.

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