Cryo-AFM development for high resolution DNA imaging and spectroscopy

The thesis presents the development of a custom made atomic force microscope (AFM) conceived to image biological molecules at low temperatures in ultrahigh vacuum conditions, and its application to DNA single molecule studies. Starting from a first prototype working in contact mode, our aim was to implement non-contact AFM in order to reduce possible sample damaging due to strong tip interactions. The first chapter of the thesis discusses the technical solutions developed to improve the previous system. A complete setup for in situ exchange of samples and tips was designed and implemented. This permits a continuous operation of the microscope under the experimental conditions of UHV. Thermal instabilities and temperature differences between the tip and the sample were solved with the design of a movable shield to avoid heating by thermal radiation. The introduction of a new high voltage signal generator with variable frequency and the development of a user-friendly LabVIEW interface to communicate with this device notably improved the piezomotors driving. These piezomotors perform the micro-positioning of all the microscope parts and are driven through this interface. Finally, the previous tip-holder design was modified to incorporate a piezo actuator behind the cantilever, which provides the necessary excitation for the implementation of dynamic AFM modes. The installation of a Phase Lock Loop (PLL) circuit to lock the cantilever frequency and the replacement of old feedback electronics for a digital SPM Controller, with advanced options of frequency-shift feedback, was another requirement for the correct implementation of non-contact AFM. The second chapter deals with DNA sample preparation for high resolution imaging by AFM. Based on our studies, the advantages and drawbacks of the most commonly used techniques for DNA adsorption are discussed in detail. Our measurements in contact mode demonstrate the convenience of using hydrophobic substrates for high resolution DNA imaging. At hydrophilic surfaces, like mica, the presence of a thin water layer could be responsible of strong adhesion forces between the cantilever and the sample. In order to overcome this limitation we tested HOPG as hydrophobic substrate. HOPG, chemically modified with amphiphilic compounds, allowed us to deposit DNA without molecular damage or stress. The HOPG surface treatment was significantly improved. New protocols were developed to control the formation of dodecylamine disordered monolayers or lamella structures on the substrate. The lamella formation induces a subsequent self assembly of DNA single molecules. In the last chapter we discuss our results on DNA imaging obtained with the different operation modes implemented in our microscope: contact mode, tapping mode and frequency modulation (non-contact) AFM. We conclude that the last one provides higher signal stability and the necessary sensitivity to observe DNA details at a single-molecule level. We also present a study of frequency shift versus distance dependence (force spectroscopy experiments) performed in DNA samples. We discuss for the first time a plausible explanation to the origin of the atomic force contrast between the substrate and the DNA molecules. Force spectroscopy measurements performed along DNA molecules reveal two distinguishable types of interaction. This result suggests that the chemical composition of the minor-major groove and/or of the sugar-phosphate backbone along the molecule can be detected, opening numerous possibilities for further studies and applications of this technique.

Dietler, Giovanni
Lausanne, EPFL
Other identifiers:
urn: urn:nbn:ch:bel-epfl-thesis4035-4

Note: The status of this file is: EPFL only

 Record created 2008-01-10, last modified 2018-03-17

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