Lab on a tip: Applications of functional atomic force microscopy for the study of electrical properties in biology

Ling Zhi Cheong, Weidong Zhao, Shuang Song, Cai Shen

Research output: Journal PublicationReview articlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


Electrical properties, such as charge propagation, dielectrics, surface potentials, conductivity, and piezoelectricity, play crucial roles in biomolecules, biomembranes, cells, tissues, and other biological samples. However, characterizing these electrical properties in delicate biosamples is challenging. Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM), the so called “Lab on a Tip” is a powerful and multifunctional approach to quantitatively study the electrical properties of biological samples at the nanometer level. Herein, the principles, theories, and achievements of various modes of AFM in this area have been reviewed and summarized. Statement of Significance: Electrical properties such as dielectric and piezoelectric forces, charge propagation behaviors play important structural and functional roles in biosystems from the single molecule level, to cells and tissues. Atomic force microscopy (AFM) has emerged as an ideal toolkit to study electrical property of biology. Herein, the basic principles of AFM are described. We then discuss the multiple modes of AFM to study the electrical properties of biological samples, including Electrostatic Force Microscopy (EFM), Kelvin Probe Force Microscopy (KPFM), Conductive Atomic Force Microscopy (CAFM), Piezoresponse Force Microscopy (PFM) and Scanning ElectroChemical Microscopy (SECM). Finally, the outlook, prospects, and challenges of the various AFM modes when studying the electrical behaviour of the samples are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-52
Number of pages20
JournalActa Biomaterialia
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Atomic force microscopy
  • Biology
  • Electrical properties

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biomaterials
  • Biochemistry
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Molecular Biology


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