Atomic force microscopy (AFM) is becoming an increasingly popular tool in biomedical and biological studies. Using a cantilever with a sharp tip attached to the free end, AFM detects the varying forces as the tip is scanned over a sample surface. Not only does this allow it to build up an atomic-scale topographic map of the surface, but it can also reveal information about various mechanical and electrical properties, including elasticity, stiffness and surface potential, which can have a big impact on cellular functions. AFM is thus proving an ideal technique for observing, exploring and manipulating the surface of many different biological samples, ranging from individual biomolecules such as DNA or proteins to individual cells and even whole tissue samples.
This Essential Knowledge Briefing (EKB) provides an introduction to AFM and its life science research capabilities. It explains the workings of a typical AFM instrument, including the primary imaging modes and the main secondary modes, and outlines some of the challenges involved in studying biological materials. It also explores some of the latest developments and advances in AFM technology and applications.