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Membrane Characterization by Atomic Force Microscopy

Membrane Materials, Characterization, and Module Design

  1. Daniel J. Johnson1,
  2. Nidal Hilal1,2

Published Online: 27 SEP 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781118522318.emst142

Encyclopedia of Membrane Science and Technology

Encyclopedia of Membrane Science and Technology

How to Cite

Johnson, D. J. and Hilal, N. 2013. Membrane Characterization by Atomic Force Microscopy. Encyclopedia of Membrane Science and Technology. 1–20.

Author Information

  1. 1

    Swansea University, Swansea, UK

  2. 2

    Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, Abu Dhabi, UAE

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 27 SEP 2013


The atomic force microscope (AFM) has been shown to be an increasingly useful tool in the characterization of membrane surfaces, in the assessment of their fouling resistance, and for the understanding of the mechanisms of fouling by colloidal and biocolloidal materials. Used in conjunction with membrane modification, its ability to directly measure adhesion forces under a wide range of operating conditions and with different foulants, actual and simulated, allows the easy assessment of the fouling resistance of the modified membranes compared with commercial membranes. The small sample sizes needed for this technique mean that this can be done without the need to produce large amounts of membranes, which may be expensive; instead, the technique acts as a potential screening technique prior to upscaling for pilot-level or industrial tests. In this article, the use of the AFM as a tool for the membrane technologist will be explored, giving information about the operation of the instrument and the types of experiment of interest in the study of separation membranes giving numerous examples from the published scientific literature.


  • scanning probe microscopy;
  • water purification;
  • desalination membrane technology;
  • surface science;
  • membrane fouling;
  • atomic force microscopy