Between 18th and 21st April of this year, we ran our Fourth Porto AFM Training Workshop. Again, we sold out the course, and had more applicants than places. Unfortunately, we could only accept fourteen students this year.
afm image of DVD
We were very pleased again with the international response to the course, and this year, we had several students from Portugal, as well as three from the UK, and students from the Czech Republic, Germany the Netherlands, Italy, Belgium and Austria.
"I must thank you so so much since after the workshop I am much more confident. I am currently imaging 10 nm ZnO Nanoparticles..I would have never believed to be able to do this by myself and with my instrument!!"
As usual, we had a mixture of core topics, and invited lectures from external experts. We had an unusual structure this year, since Dr. Simon Connell from Molecular and Nanoscale Physics group in Leeds, and had to catch a plane back to the UK shortly after the start of the course! However, he had time to give us an excellent, and really amazing talk about how to study dynamic processes with the AFM. As usual, the first night we accompanied a group of the students to a local restaurant where lots of experiments with Portuguese food and drink were carried out!
On the second day we continued the lectures and also had a guest talk from Dr. Rogério Colaço from the IST in Lisbon, talking about how to use the AFM to measure all sorts of properties of Materials samples. The students also learned about sample preparation and prepared some samples to image the next day. After classes that day Jorge and I were able to repair one of the microscopes which had become damaged in transit, just in time for the practical classes the next day!

Wednesday was a beautiful sunny day so fortunately all the students had either the morning or afternoon off to make the most of the trip to the beautiful city of Porto. The practical classes went really well, and some of the images obtained by the students can be observed on this page. We always run a “best image” competition, so the students are extra-motivated to collect great AFM data. The results of this competition will be run very shortly. I was particularly impressed that within a classroom environment, with four people around, the students were able to image DNA; getting decent images of structure that are less than one nanometre in height!
students learning atomic force microscopy
" I really enjoyed both the sample preparation part, during which I learned useful tips for improving my images, and the practical class"
The end of this day was taken up with the traditional visit to a Port wine lodge where we all learned about Porto’s most famous export, we enjoyed the beautiful views over the river, and had a lovely meal (and plenty of Wine) at Taylor’s restaurant.
afm course meal at taylors
After all that wine, the last day started with some subdued students, but we had a more interactive day, with all the students learning about AFM data Processing , display and analysis. The students used test data, and their own images and definitely seemed to be learning a lot.  During this time, several student had one-to-one coaching session on force spectroscopy, with our invited expert Dr. Filomena Carvalho of the institute of molecular medicine in Lisbon, who then gave another excellent talk highlighting her work on the uses of AFM force curves in biomedical applications.
"The workshop was very useful, since I never worked with AFM. I think the course is a useful and important way to start with AFM."

Overall, this was a very interactive group of students, and it was a pleasure to teach them all, thanks for coming! We got some nice feed-back from the students, some of which you can see on this page. For those that missed out, hope to see you next year!
"I particularly appreciate the organization of each presentation and the attention given to each student’s objectives. During the entire workshop practical examples were given according the class aims."
If you are interested in being informed about the next AFM training workshop, email me here: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

As usual, during our AFM training course , we ran an image competition, challenging the students to submit images they had acquired or processed during the course.

This year, the standard was very high, and we could not decide between two of the entries, so two prizes have been awarded.

The overall prize goes to the image below of E. coli bacteria which was produced by Dr. Cassandra Terry of UCL, London. The processing on this makes was excellent!

E. coli by C. Terry


We could not go without giving a prize to this image of double-stranded  DNA molecules obtained by Dr. Elin Moe of ITQB, Lisbon. This image, below, won our technical merit prize. Acquiring such an image in your first session with an AFM is impressive!



Congratulations to both, your prizes will be with you soon!


I am currently writing a chapter for a new book about AFM. The chapter will address AFM issues and artifact. If you have an image that illustrates well an AFM artifact or imaging problem, send it to me, and I might include it in the book!AFM tip artifact


I will ensure all images are properly credited to their submitters.

Meanwhile if you have an image with a problem, and you cannot identify it, you can also sen that in, and I'll see if I can diagnose the problem.

All images can be sent to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Atomic force microscopy (AFM) is an ideal technique to characterise topography, as well as many other properties, of polymer films and artifacts. AFM has several advantages over electron microscopy in this regards. For instance, most polymers are insulators, and would therefore need to be coated for SEM observation, potentially changing their texture. AFM also does not need a thin sample, as TEM does.


There are many different experiments and modes appropriate for polymer samples. For good reviews see the bibliography at the end of the this article, or the longer article in my book. This article discusses two common types of measurements of polymer samples by AFM. 


Phase imaging

Modes such as phase imaging are very useful for polymer composites, and copolymers since they consist of mixed materials, and the distribution of the phases is usually critical for their properties.

As described in section of the book, phase imaging is sensitive to viscoelastic properties of the sample and to tip-sample adhesion. This means that many materials can be differentiated by phase imaging Because of its ability to distinguish many materials, phase imaging has been applied to an enormous number of samples, just some examples include differentiation of semiconductor films, nanoparticle characterisation and counting, observation of spherulites in polymer crystallisation, polymer blend and composite composition, protein adsorption to biomaterials, self assembled monolayers, and many more systems.


Phase imaging is particularly useful for distinguishing features in polymer films which do not exhibit great height contrast. For example, in the image below.

Phase imaging of polymer blend

Topography (left) and phase (right) images of the same area of a polymer blend. While the topography image shows the presence of different regions in the blend, only in the phase image are they clearly distinguished.


On this page, I'll link to the occasional articles I write about applications of AFM in different areas