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Here we demonstrate that an astigmatic detection system (ADS), constructed with a modified digital-versatile-disk (DVD) optical head, can achieve real-time measurement of a linear displacement and two-dimensional (2D) tilt angles with a high sensitivity. An atomic force microscope (AFM), using our detection system to sense the deflection of microfabricated cantilevers, can resolve single atomic steps on graphite surfaces with a noise level less than 0.04 nm in topographic images. Thisdoi:10.1088/0957-4484/19/11/115501 pmid:21730551 fatcat:f43bhlcynndjxbuzucw4atnsmy