How a Bespoke Cantilever is Used for Biofilm Analysis

The Nanotechnology research group leader at The Open University, Dr James Bowen, describes his experience of collaborating with NuNano on a bespoke probe development project.

Image Credit: NuNano

Case Study

While employing Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) to investigate hair damage prevention and hair care products in 2016, Dr James Bowen noticed that he was pushing the technology available at that time to its very limits.

James was able to evaluate the uses of nanoscale polymer liquid films in hair care products by utilizing colloid probes on commercially available cantilevers.

By evaluating the residue of liquids on hair, he was able to measure the amount of protection from friction offered by hair conditioning products and when and where the degradation of the polymer coating on the hair occurs, which causes cuticle damage.

The outcome was positive, but James had a desire for more effective investigations of the adhesion and friction forces. He set out to discover a better solution, even if that involved creating it himself.

James was certain that the correct solution could be found in AFM. It gave him both the accuracy and control needed to understand precisely what he was looking at and where it was seen along the hair length.

How to impose the right degree of force to be able to scrape and scratch the liquid polymer on the surface of the cuticle was the main challenge.

I realized there was a gap in the market between traditional mechanical testing and what was needed to look at materials at this scale, over larger ranges. Using an AFM with really stiff cantilevers, I stood a fighting chance of addressing both these issues. Fundamentally though, all I had was the idea and the dimensions sketched out for the length and width of the cantilever and chip that I felt could do the job. Realizing my idea was the next challenge.

Dr James Bowen, Nanotechnology Research Group Leader, The Open University

Developing New Cantilevers

James already knew that NuNano were manufacturers of standard probes. It was a spontaneous conversation with an application scientist at JPK concerning his new cantilever concept that highlighted to him the opportunity of collaborating with NuNano on bespoke product development.

James was given a written project specification which correctly described his requirements after a face to face meeting to fully understand the needs of the project, along with an initial phone call with Dr James Vicary, the CEO of NuNano.

What I needed was hundreds of cantilevers fabricated to be different lengths, thicknesses and stiffnesses. Talking to James Vicary helped to scope out the project in a more detailed way. It was great to be able to have that conversation with someone who really got what I was trying to do – and importantly, who had the enthusiasm and courage to give it a go.

Dr James Bowen, Nanotechnology Research Group Leader, The Open University

Funding was secured more easily by having the right partner company in place who were able and willing to complete the work. Describing NuNano’s expertise and involvement when writing the grant application reduced many of the risks involved in the project proposal.

Thickness is perhaps the hardest element to control during the cantilever manufacturing process but NuNano were able to produce them ranging from 12.5 to 25-micron thickness, as well as varying lengths

NuNano provided him with more than 900 cantilevers with varying width and thickness in response to James’ requirements.

Employing the JPK NanoWizard AFM, the selection box of cantilevers delivered by NuNano, and an analytical model, James could predict the constants of the cantilever spring.

Calibrating each cantilever and recording the data, over time it has become possible to accurately predict what thickness is needed to affect the spring constant required for the job.

Dr James Bowen, Nanotechnology Research Group Leader, The Open University

The final step comprises estimating the resonant frequency for both and has taken some significant coding work. Dr David Cheneler, a colleague at Lancaster University, made a finite element model to perform this.

With the model in place, I simply measure the resonant frequency on the beams. If that’s right, then I know we’ve got the cantilever we want.

Bespoke NuNano cantilevers with different lengths and thicknesses

Figure 1. Bespoke NuNano cantilevers with different lengths and thicknesses. Image Credit: NuNano

Results

Calibrations are going well,” states James, “We’ve clearly developed a new platform with lots of potential applications for measuring micro/nano friction on architecturally difficult surfaces.

Along with allowing for significant improvement in James’ 2016 research on friction and wear of human hair fibers, he is looking for different opportunities.

Commercial cantilevers finish their spring constants around 50 N/m but that’s where my cantilevers start from, up to 3,000 N/m, and even up to 10,000 N/m. This enables you to scrape away biofilms from surfaces, assessing their adhesion. Historically you couldn’t get down to the counter surfaces, due to the large forces involved, but with this technology you can.

Research topics could include hygiene, such as dental products, where bugs in the mouth and teeth can be observed, and surface cleanliness, for example, analyzing how household surface cleaners mitigate the development of bacteria and pathogens.

In 2020, James has plans to tour his technology at microscopy conferences. He is eager to talk with anyone who may be interested in discovering more about the technology and interacting with the kit.

Escherichia coli biofilm after six days of growth.

Figure 2. Escherichia coli biofilm after six days of growth. Image Credit: NuNano

Tenocytes on calcium phosphate after seven days of growth.

Figure 3. Tenocytes on calcium phosphate after seven days of growth. Image Credit: Nu Nano Ltd

About NuNano

NuNano is a UK-based company specializing in the design and manufacture of probes for atomic force microscopy and cantilever-based sensor devices. It was founded in 2011 by Dr James Vicary and Professors Heinrich Hoerber and Mervyn Miles to bring new manufacturing methods and exemplary levels of customer service to an industry broadly unchanged in 20 years.

Building on over 60 years of combined experience in atomic force microscopy, our proprietary microfabrication processes enable us to manufacture AFM probes with the tightest dimensional tolerances in the market at present. We are passionate about providing AFM users with the best possible customer service, from the first time you visit our website to storing your probes after a successful day on the microscope.


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Last updated: Feb 27, 2020 at 4:36 AM

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