The effect of PeakForce tapping mode AFM imaging on the apparent shape of surface nanobubbles

W. Walczyk, Peter Manfred Schön, Holger Schönherr

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Until now, TM AFM (tapping mode or intermittent contact mode atomic force microscopy) has been the most often applied direct imaging technique to analyze surface nanobubbles at the solid–aqueous interface. While the presence and number density of nanobubbles can be unequivocally detected and estimated, it remains unclear how much the a priori invasive nature of AFM affects the apparent shapes and dimensions of the nanobubbles. To be able to successfully address the unsolved questions in this field, the accurate knowledge of the nanobubbles' dimensions, radii of curvature etc is necessary. In this contribution we present a comparative study of surface nanobubbles on HOPG (highly oriented pyrolytic graphite) in water acquired with (i) TM AFM and (ii) the recently introduced PFT (PeakForce tapping) mode, in which the force exerted on the nanobubbles rather than the amplitude of the resonating cantilever is used as the AFM feedback parameter during imaging. In particular, we analyzed how the apparent size and shape of nanobubbles depend on the maximum applied force in PFT AFM. Even for forces as small as 73 pN, the nanobubbles appeared smaller than their true size, which was estimated from an extrapolation of the bubble height to zero applied force. In addition, the size underestimation was found to be more pronounced for larger bubbles. The extrapolated true nanoscopic contact angles for nanobubbles on HOPG, measured in PFT AFM, ranged from 145° to 175° and were only slightly underestimated by scanning with non-zero forces. This result was comparable to the nanoscopic contact angles of 160°–175° measured using TM AFM in the same set of experiments. Both values disagree, in accordance with the literature, with the macroscopic contact angle of water on HOPG, measured here to be 63° ± 2°.
Original languageEnglish
Article number184005
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of physics: Condensed matter
Issue number18
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • IR-90068
  • METIS-299865


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