Development of a State-of-the-Art Atomic Force Microscope for Improved Force Spectroscopy

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This research describes the development of a state-of-the-art atomic force microscope (AFM) for improved force spectroscopy. Although the AFM has been used extensively in this field of research, the performance of the instrument has been limited by inefficient operation techniques, incorrect experimental assumptions, and inadequate controller design. This research focuses on overcoming these deficiencies by providing precise control over the instrument for specialized research in a manner that is conducive to the natural science researcher.

To facilitate this research, a custom, multi-axis AFM system was constructed. The instrument was designed primarily for AFM-based force spectroscopy and as a result a substantial amount of research focused on the development of a wide variety of approach/retraction methods for the instrument. Defining research in this area included the development of methods to minimize potentially damaging compressive forces, form polymer bridges at different tip-sample gap widths, produce clean, deconvoluted force-extension curves, and limit single molecule force spectroscopy pulling geometry errors. In an effort to increase the efficiency of the instrument, the programs developed during this research were fully automated, allowing autonomous operation of the instrument for long periods of time. To compliment the data collection programs, both manual and automated analysis programs with force-volume imaging capabilities were also developed.

By studying the AFM from a dynamic systems, measurements, and controls approach, the resulting controllers were tailored to meet the process requirements of the intended applications. In doing so, the sensitivity of the instrument was improved for applications of interest. By incorporating control over the environment, contact force, loading rate, and pulling angle, the research has increased the accuracy of the AFM such that molecules and receptor-ligand binding events can be investigated with greater detail. Furthermore, the incorporation of a graphical user interface and automated data collection and analysis tools has made the AFM a more user-friendly, efficient instrument for the natural science researcher.





Rivera, Monica (2008). Development of a State-of-the-Art Atomic Force Microscope for Improved Force Spectroscopy. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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