Quantitative force and dissipation measurements in liquids using piezo-excited atomic force microscopy: a unifying theory

Kiracofe Daniel, Purdue University
Arvind Raman, Purdue University

Date of this Version



Nanotechnology, Volume 22, Number 48


The use of a piezoelectric element (acoustic excitation) to vibrate the base of microcantilevers is a popular method for dynamic atomic force microscopy. In air or vacuum, the base motion is so small (relative to tip motion) that it can be neglected. However, in liquid environments the base motion can be large and cannot be neglected. Yet it cannot be directly observed in most AFMs. Therefore, in liquids, quantitative force and energy dissipation spectroscopy with acoustic AFM relies on theoretical formulae and models to estimate the magnitude of the base motion. However, such formulae can be inaccurate due to several effects. For example, a significant component of the piezo excitation does not mechanically excite the cantilever but rather transmits acoustic waves through the surrounding liquid, which in turn indirectly excites the cantilever. Moreover, resonances of the piezo, chip and holder can obscure the true cantilever dynamics even in well-designed liquid cells. Although some groups have tried to overcome these limitations (either by theory modification or better design of piezos and liquid cells), it is generally accepted that acoustic excitation is unsuitable for quantitative force and dissipation spectroscopy in liquids. In this paper the authors present a careful study of the base motion and excitation forces and propose a method by which quantitative analysis is in fact possible, thus opening this popular method for quantitative force and dissipation spectroscopy using dynamic AFM in liquids. This method is validated by experiments in water on mica using a scanning laser Doppler vibrometer, which can measure the actual base motion. Finally, the method is demonstrated by using small-amplitude dynamic AFM to extract the force gradients and dissipation on solvation shells of octamethylcyclotetrasiloxane (OMCTS) molecules on mica.


Nanoscience and Nanotechnology