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Combined Ion Conductance and Atomic Force Microscope for Fast Simultaneous Topographical and Surface Charge Imaging

Dorwling-Carter, Livie, Aramesh, Morteza, Han, Hana, Zambelli, Tomaso, Momotenko, Dmitry
Analytical chemistry 2018 v.90 no.19 pp. 11453-11460
atomic force microscopy, electrolytes, glass, image analysis, ionic strength, liquids
We report here an advanced approach for simultaneous and independent submicroscale imaging of local surface charge and topography using microchanneled cantilevers, also known as FluidFM nanopipette probes. These hollow cantilevers with a 300 nm opening are employed for ion current measurements that provide access to the local properties of the electrical double layer using the phenomenon of ion current rectification, while also taking advantage of the force sensing capabilities for accurate probe vertical positioning and topography imaging. The independent nature of this atomic force microscope (AFM) feedback opens up a possibility to significantly increase the sensitivity for probing local surface charges in a wider range of salt concentrations, especially in electrolytes of low ionic strength (below 10 mM), where classical local ion conductance measurements with glass nanopipettes would suffer from inaccuracies and instabilities, but where the electrical double layer extends further into the liquid medium and has stronger effect on the measured ion currents for charge imaging. We demonstrate that the measurements with FluidFM do not compromise the positioning accuracy and enable accurate and simultaneous topographical and charge imaging in contact mode (similar to AFM) at high scanning rates, approaching thousands of pixels per second, therefore overtaking state-of-the-art techniques for charge mapping by at least 2 orders of magnitude (the probes reach translation rates of 120 μm s–¹ equating to 2 ms per image pixel). We also reveal experimentally the physical limit of this high speed scanning, constrained by the rate of ion redistribution in surface-induced rectification required for double layer sensing and charge mapping.