Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

The Molecular Measuring Machine



John A. Kramar, E Gilsinn, E Amatucci, C Villarrubia, E C. Teague, W Scire, William B. Penzes


To help meet the measurement needs of industries preparing to manufacture future generations of nanoelectronic devices and circuits, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has designed and built an instrument¿called the Molecular Measuring Machine (M3)¿with the goal of measuring with one nanometer combined standard uncertainty the positions of features located anywhere within a 50 mm by 50 mm area. Achieving this capability for M3 has required the development and integration of many forefront technologies: atomic-resolution scanning probes, high-accuracy interferometry for displacement measurements, and precision nanomotion generation. These have been combined in a controlled environment featuring ultra-high vacuum, acoustic and seismic vibration isolation, and millidegree-stability temperature control. In one demonstration of its capabilities, using the scanning tunneling microscope probe, M3 imaged an array of laser-focused, atomically deposited chromium lines over a 5 mm by 1 mm area. An analysis of the image data yielded an average line spacing of 212.69 nm with an estimated expanded uncertainty of 0.01 nm, coverage factor, k, of two. This is based on a point-to-point expanded uncertainty of 50 nm (k = 2) for a 1 mm length measurement. In another measurement, the scanning tunneling microscope probe was able to continuously track a holographically-produced grating surface for 10 mm, counting out 49,996 lines and measuring an average line spacing of 200.01 nm with an expanded uncertainty of 0.01 nm (k = 2). This grating is now being used as a reference standard in the production of a spectrometer for the space-borne Advanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility being built by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Currently M3 is undergoing a series of modifications. The motion actuators and guides are being refined, additional environmental and position sensors are being added, and a new machine controller system is being developed. These improvements should enable the capability for point-to-point measurements approaching the original goal. In addition to its measurement functions, M3 can also serve as a tool for for exploring methods of manufacturing mechanical and electrical structures in the nanometer-size range.
Conference Dates
November 30-December 2, 1998
Conference Location
Hsinchu, TW
Conference Title
Proceedings of the International Conference on Mechatronic Technology (ICMT'98)


measurements, molecular measuring machine


Kramar, J. , Gilsinn, E. , Amatucci, E. , Villarrubia, C. , Teague, E. , Scire, W. and Penzes, W. (1998), The Molecular Measuring Machine, Proceedings of the International Conference on Mechatronic Technology (ICMT'98), Hsinchu, TW (Accessed April 15, 2024)
Created January 1, 1998, Updated February 19, 2017