Direct measurement of colloidal forces using an atomic force microscope


THE forces between colloidal particles dominate the behaviour of a great variety of materials, including paints, paper, soil, clays and (in some circumstances) cells. Here we describe the use of the atomic force microscope to measure directly the force between a planar surface and an individual colloid particle. The particle, a silica sphere of radius 3.5 µm, was attached to the force sensor in the microscope and the force between the particle and the surface was measured in solutions of sodium chloride. The measurements are consistent with the double-layer theory1,2 of colloidal forces, although at very short distances there are deviations that may be attributed to hydration forces3–6 or surface roughness, and with previous studies on macroscopic systems4–6. Similar measurements should be possible for a wide range of the particulate and fibrous materials that are often encountered in industrial contexts, provided that they can be attached to the microscope probe.

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Ducker, W., Senden, T. & Pashley, R. Direct measurement of colloidal forces using an atomic force microscope. Nature 353, 239–241 (1991).

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