UNIT 17.7 Introduction to Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) in Biology

  1. Claire S. Goldsbury1,
  2. Simon Scheuring2,
  3. Laurent Kreplak3

Published Online: 1 NOV 2009

DOI: 10.1002/0471140864.ps1707s58

Current Protocols in Protein Science

Current Protocols in Protein Science

How to Cite

Goldsbury, C. S., Scheuring, S. and Kreplak, L. 2009. Introduction to Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) in Biology. Current Protocols in Protein Science. 58:17.7:17.7.1–17.7.19.

Author Information

  1. 1

    University of Sydney, Brain and Mind Research Institute, Sydney, Australia

  2. 2

    Institut Curie-Research, UMR-CNRS 168, Paris, France

  3. 3

    Dalhousie University, Department of Physics & Atmospheric Science, Halifax, Canada

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 1 NOV 2009
  2. Published Print: NOV 2009


The atomic force microscope (AFM) has the unique capability of imaging biological samples with molecular resolution in buffer solution. In addition to providing topographical images of surfaces with nanometer- to angstrom-scale resolution, forces between single molecules and mechanical properties of biological samples can be investigated from the nanoscale to the microscale. Importantly, the measurements are made in buffer solutions, allowing biological samples to “stay alive” within a physiological-like environment while temporal changes in structure are measured—e.g., before and after addition of chemical reagents. These qualities distinguish AFM from conventional imaging techniques of comparable resolution, e.g., electron microscopy (EM). This unit provides an introduction to AFM on biological systems and describes specific examples of AFM on proteins, cells, and tissues. The physical principles of the technique and methodological aspects of its practical use and applications are also described. Curr. Protoc. Protein Sci. 58:17.7.1-17.7.19. © 2009 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


  • topography;
  • force spectroscopy;
  • manipulation;
  • fluorescence microscopy