The atomic force microscope (AFM) has found wide applicability as a nanoindentation tool to measure local elastic properties of soft materials. An automated approach to the processing of AFM indentation data, namely, the extraction of Young’s modulus, is essential to realizing the high-throughput potential of the instrument as an elasticity probe for typical soft materials that exhibit inhomogeneity at microscopic scales. This paper focuses on Hertzian analysis techniques, which are applicable to linear elastic indentation. We compiled a series of synergistic strategies into an algorithm that overcomes many of the complications that have previously impeded efforts to automate the fitting of contact mechanics models to indentation data. AFM raster data sets containing up to 1024 individual force-displacement curves and macroscopic compression data were obtained from testing polyvinyl alcohol gels of known composition. Local elastic properties of tissue-engineered cartilage were also measured by the AFM. All AFM data sets were processed using customized software based on the algorithm, and the extracted values of Young’s modulus were compared to those obtained by macroscopic testing. Accuracy of the technique was verified by the good agreement between values of Young’s modulus obtained by AFM and by direct compression of the synthetic gels. Validation of robustness was achieved by successfully fitting the vastly different types of force curves generated from the indentation of tissue-engineered cartilage. For AFM indentation data that are amenable to Hertzian analysis, the method presented here minimizes subjectivity in preprocessing and allows for improved consistency and minimized user intervention. Automated, large-scale analysis of indentation data holds tremendous potential in bioengineering applications, such as high-resolution elasticity mapping of natural and artificial tissues.
Robust Strategies for Automated AFM Force Curve Analysis—I. Non-adhesive Indentation of Soft, Inhomogeneous Materials
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Lin, D. C., Dimitriadis, E. K., and Horkay, F. (November 15, 2006). "Robust Strategies for Automated AFM Force Curve Analysis—I. Non-adhesive Indentation of Soft, Inhomogeneous Materials." ASME. J Biomech Eng. June 2007; 129(3): 430–440. https://doi.org/10.1115/1.2720924
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