Atomic force microscopy and direct surface force measurements

J. Ralston, I. Larson, M. Rutland, A. Feiler, J.M. Kleijn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

127 Citations (Scopus)


The atomic force microscope (AFM) is designed to provide high-resolution (in the ideal case, atomic) topographical analysis, applicable to both conducting and nonconducting surfaces. The basic imaging principle is very simple: a sample attached to a piezoelectric positioner is rastered beneath a sharp tip attached to a sensitive cantilever spring. Undulations in the surface lead to deflection of the spring, which is monitored optically. Usually, a feedback loop is employed, which holds the spring deflection constant, and the corresponding movement of the piezoelectric positioner thus generates the image. From this it can be seen that the scanning AFM has all the attributes necessary for the determination of surface and adhesion forces; a sensitive spring to determine the force, a piezoelectric crystal to alter the separation of the tip and surface, which if sufficiently well-calibrated also allows the relative separation of the tip and surface to be calculated. One can routinely quantify both the net surface force (and its separation dependence) as the probe approaches the sample, and any adhesion (pull-off) force on retraction. Interactions in relevant or practical systems may be studied, and, in such cases, a distinct advantage of the AFM technique is that a particle of interest can be attached to the end of the cantilever and the interaction with a sample of choice can be studied, a method often referred to as colloid probe microscopy. The AFM, or, more correctly, the scanning probe microscope, can thus be used to measure surface and frictional forces, the two foci of this article. There have been a wealth of force and friction measurements performed between an AFM tip and a surface, and many of the calibration and analysis issues are identical to those necessary for colloid probe work. We emphasize that this article confines itself primarily to elements of colloid probe measurement using the AFM
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2149-2170
JournalPure and Applied Chemistry
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2005


  • double-layer forces
  • adsorbed polyelectrolyte layers
  • torsional spring constant
  • aqueous-electrolyte
  • cellulose surfaces
  • probe microscopy
  • capillary forces
  • colloidal forces
  • friction
  • adhesion

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