Most atomic force microscopes and cantilever-based sensors use an optical laser beam detection system to monitor cantilever deflections. We have developed a working model that accurately describes the way in which a position sensitive photodetector interprets the deflection of a cantilever in these instruments. This model exactly predicts the numerical relationship between the measured photodetector signal and the actual cantilever deflection. In addition, the model is used to optimize the geometry of such laser deflection systems, which greatly simplifies the use of any cantilever-based instrument that uses a laser beam detection system.

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