Increased imaging speed and force sensitivity for bio-applications with small cantilevers using a conventional AFM setup
In this study, we demonstrate the increased performance in speed and sensitivity achieved by the use of small AFM cantilevers on a standard AFM system. For this, small rectangular silicon oxynitride cantilevers were utilized to arrive at faster atomic force microscopy (AFM) imaging times and more sensitive molecular recognition force spectroscopy (MRFS) experiments. The cantilevers we used had lengths between 13 and 46 mu m, a width of about 11 mu m, and a thickness between 150 and 600 nm. They were coated with chromium and gold on the backside for a better laser reflection. We characterized these small cantilevers through their frequency spectrum and with electron microscopy. Due to their small size and high resonance frequency we were able to increase the imaging speed by a factor of 10 without any loss in resolution for images from several mu m scansize down to the nanometer scale. This was shown on bacterial surface layers (s-layer) with tapping mode under aqueous, near physiological conditions and on nuclear membranes in contact mode in ambient environment. In addition, we showed that single molecular forces can be measured with an up to 5 times higher force sensitivity in comparison to conventional cantilevers with similar spring constants. (C) 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.