Stiffness Tomography by Atomic Force Microscopy
The atomic force microscope is a convenient tool to probe living samples at the nanometric scale. Among its numerous capabilities, the instrument can be operated as a namo-indenter to gather information about the mechanical properties of the sample. In this operating mode, the deformation of the cantilever is displayed as a function of the indentation depth of the tip into the sample. Fitting this curve with different theoretical models permits us to estimate the Young's modulus of the sample at the indentation spot. We describe what to our knowledge is a new technique to process these curves to distinguish structures of different stiffness buried into the bulk of the sample. The working principle of this new imaging technique has been verified by finite element models and successfully applied to living cells.