A Precision Force Microscope for Biophysics

  • Gavin M. KingEmail author
  • Allison B. Churnside
  • Thomas T. Perkins
Conference paper
Part of the Conference Proceedings of the Society for Experimental Mechanics Series book series (CPSEMS)


Mechanical drift between an atomic force microscope (AFM) tip and sample is a longstanding problem that limits tip-sample stability, registration, and the signal-to-noise ratio during imaging. We demonstrate a robust solution to drift that enables novel precision measurements, especially of biological macromolecules in physiologically relevant conditions. Our strategy – inspired by precision optical trapping microscopy – is to actively stabilize both the tip and the sample using locally generated optical signals. In particular, we scatter a laser off the apex of commercial AFM tips and use the scattered light to locally measure and thereby actively control the tip’s three-dimensional position above a sample surface with atomic precision in ambient conditions. With this enhanced stability, we overcome the traditional need to scan rapidly while imaging and achieve a fivefold increase in the image signal-to-noise ratio. Finally, we demonstrate atomic-scale (∼100 pm) tip-sample stability and registration over tens of minutes with a series of AFM images. The stabilization technique requires low laser power (<1 mW), imparts a minimal perturbation upon the cantilever, and is independent of the tip-sample interaction. This work extends atomic-scale tip-sample control, previously restricted to cryogenic temperatures and ultrahigh vacuum, to a wide range of perturbative operating environments.


Atomic Force Microscope Drift Rate Localization Precision Measurement Platform Lateral Drift 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This work was supported by a Burroughs Wellcome Fund Career Award at the Scientific Interface (GMK) and a Burroughs Wellcome Fund Career Award in the Biomedical Sciences (TTP), a National Research Council Research Associateship Award (GMK), an NIH Molecular Biophysics Training Scholarship (ABC, T32 GM-065103), a Butcher Grant, the NSF (grant #: 0923544) and NIST. Mention of commercial products is for information only; it does not imply NIST’s recommendation or endorsement, nor does it imply that the products mentioned are necessarily the best available for the purpose. TTP is a staff member of NIST’s Quantum Physics Division.


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Copyright information

© The Society for Experimental Mechanics 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gavin M. King
    • 1
    Email author
  • Allison B. Churnside
    • 2
    • 3
  • Thomas T. Perkins
    • 2
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Physics and Joint with BiochemistryUniversity of MissouriColumbiaUSA
  2. 2.JILA, National Institute of Standard and Technology and University of ColoradoBoulderUSA
  3. 3.Department of PhysicsUniversity of ColoradoBoulderUSA
  4. 4.Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental BiologyUniversity of ColoradoBoulderUSA

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