Scanning Ion Conductance Microscope (SICM)

Ionscope is the world-leader in Scanning Ion Conductance Microscopy (SICM), a rapidly emerging Scanning Probe Microscopy (SPM) technique which allows nanoscale topographical mapping of soft and delicate surfaces.

The Ionscope Scanning Ion Conductance Microscope (SICM) is a state-of-the-art nanometre imaging system. It comprises a scan head, a controller, and data-acquisition systems. The robust mechanical design of the Ionscope SICM ensures high precision measurements. It can be used as a standalone system or integrated with an inverted light (or confocal) microscope. The ionscope image software offers a variety of supported modes and in-built system functions such as automated immersion, surface detection, real-time ion current display, real-time 2D and 3D display of images as they are formed.


What a Scanning Ion Conductance Microscope (SICM) does


Hippocampal Neurons

Ionscope’s SICM combines ease of sample preparation with non-destructive high resolution imaging in:

  • Living cells and tissues
  • Artificial structures


Mesenchymal stem cells

SICM’s unique conductance feedback captures details of soft and delicate surfaces to understand:

  • Morphological changes
  • Physiological processes
  • Surface chemistry


SICM-SECM gold nanoparticles

Ionscope’s microscopes can place a probe over an imaged 3D surface to perform or simultaneously generate a map for:

  • Targeted patch-clamping
  • Optical and Electrochemical analysis
  • Integration with multiple techniques
  • Deposition and extraction of material

(Courtesy of Dr. O’Connell and Dr. Wain, NPL)

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How a Scanning Ion Conductance Microscope (SICM) system works

Scanning Ion Conductance Microscopy (SICM) acquires topographic images of surfaces in electrolyte solutions. Images are created by scanning a (glass or quartz) nanopipette probe over the sample whilst measuring the ion current through the pipette. As the probe approaches the sample surface the ion current decreases; the Z position is recorded when the ion current has dropped by a predefined amount.

This unique feedback mechanism allows the nanopipette to avoid physical contact with the sample – meaning that SICM is particularly well suited for imaging soft samples such as live cells. SICM non- destructively images convoluted features that other systems would damage.

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The Ionscope Scanning Ion Conductance Microscope (SICM) system

Scan head

  • Large scan range and sample stage travel range.
  • Accurate positioning with nanometre resolution.
  • Low noise level in the system.
  • Easy access to pipette and sample area.
  • Fit a wide range of inverted microscopes.


  • Interface control and feedback signals.
  • FPGA provides advanced signal processing for pipette positioning and current detection.
  • Auxiliary input allow signals from external device to be displayed in synchronisation with detection of threshold ion current and pipette position.

User Interface

  • User friendly interface allows easy configuration, control, measurement and display of system and data.
  • Database with search functions.
  • Dynamic 2D and 3D images.
  • Controls hopping mode and also supports Approach Curve and Manual Approach operations
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Scanning Ion Conductance Microscopy Applications

Learn more about SICM applications