Atomic Force Microscopy: Applications in the Field of Biology

J K H Hoerber

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter in a book


The invention of telescopes and microscopes about 400 years ago
revolutionized our perception of the world, extending our sense of seeing.
Extending it further and further has since been the driving force for
major scientific developments. Local probe techniques extend our sense
of touching into the micro- and nanoworld and in this way provide
complementary new insight into these worlds we see with microscopic
techniques. Furthermore, touching things is an essential prerequisite
to manipulating things, and the ability to feel and manipulate single
molecules and atoms for sure marks another of these revolutionizing
steps in our relation to the world in which we live.
Local probes are small-sized objects, such as the very end of sharp tips,
which interact with a sample, or better, the surface of a sample at selected
positions. Proximity to or contact with the sample is required to have a
high spatial resolution. This, in principle, is an old idea that appeared
in the literature from time to time in context with bringing a source of
electromagnetic radiation in close contact with a sample (Synge, Philos
Mag 6:356, 1928; O’Keefe, J Opt Soc 46:359, 1956; Ash and Nicolls,
Nature 237:510, 1972). It found no resonance and therefore was not
pursued until the early 1980s. Nanoscale local probes require atomically
stable tips and high-precision manipulation devices. The latter are based
on mechanical deformations of spring-like structures by piezoelectric,
electrostatic, or magnetic forces to ensure continuous and reproducible
displacements with precision down to the picometer level. They also
require very good vibration isolation. The resolution that can be achieved
with local probes is given mainly by the effective probe size, its distance
from the sample, and the distance dependence of the interaction between
the probes and the sample measured. The latter can be considered when
creating an effective aperture by selecting a small feature of the overall
geometry of the probe tip, which then corresponds to the effective probe.
One of the great advantages of local probes is that they can work in
any environment; this way, they provide the possibility to study live
biological processes similar to optical microscopy, but at a resolution
similar to electron microscopy (EM).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSurface Analysis and Techniques in Biology
EditorsVincent Smentkowski
PublisherSpringer International Publishing AG
Pageschapter 10
Number of pages32
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2013


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