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Atomic Force Microscopy in Analysis of Polymers

Polymers and Rubbers

  1. S.N. Magonov

Published Online: 15 SEP 2006

DOI: 10.1002/9780470027318.a2003

Encyclopedia of Analytical Chemistry

Encyclopedia of Analytical Chemistry

How to Cite

Magonov, S. 2006. Atomic Force Microscopy in Analysis of Polymers. Encyclopedia of Analytical Chemistry. .

Author Information

  1. Digital Instruments Veeco Metrology Group, Santa Barbara, USA

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 SEP 2006


Atomic force microscopy (AFM), in which a sharp probe is employed for profiling surfaces with unique resolution, has developed into an invaluable multidisciplinary technique for advanced characterization of polymer materials. In its basic function, AFM provides high-resolution imaging of surface structures between the scales of a few nanometers to hundreds of micrometers. This capability is useful for quantitative analysis of surface microroughness of technological surfaces with high sensitivity and accuracy. The direct visualization of polymer structures, from single macromolecules to granular and lamellar nanostructures, to microphase separation and other morphologic patterns, makes AFM an important complementary tool for many of the techniques (light scattering, chromatography, optical and electron microscopy, X-ray diffraction analysis, etc.) employed in polymer analysis.

The advances in AFM of polymers are related to a better understanding of tip–sample force interactions and their use for examination of local sample properties. Different responses of the probing tip to surface locations with different mechanical and adhesive properties are the key for compositional imaging of heterogeneous polymer systems. Compositional mapping with AFM, which does not require any special sample treatment, substantially enhances its microscopic value. Visualization of individual components in block copolymers, polymer blends and semicrystalline materials can be performed with nanometer resolution. In addition to lateral compositional imaging, AFM probing of subsurface structures can be achieved for polymer samples with rubber-like top layers.

A further expansion of AFM applications is expected with the imaging of polymers at different temperatures. Monitoring of polymer structural changes at thermal phase transitions could help in the understanding of polymer melting, crystallization, recrystallization, glass transition and physical aging. In such applications, AFM will complement various thermal techniques.

The review describes the basics of AFM, practical aspects of its applications to polymers and presents a broad range of examples illustrating the main trends in AFM of polymer materials.