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.


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..


The Porto AFM Workshop 2017 is filling up rapidly. There are only one or two places left at this time. We also expect to announce a big name as an invited lecturer soon.


If you want to reserve a place email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. right away!


The course will run from the 10th to 13th April. This is a training workshop, aimed at any researcher or scientist, who wants to learn about AFM, or increase their knowledge of the technique. Following the successful courses that have run since 2011, the course will includes several hours hands-on training in acquiring images with the atomic force microscope as well as AFM data processing.


Please click the image below to download the flyer with more details.

afm course flyer PDF



The course is supported by AFMWorkshop, The Faculty of Sciences of The University of Porto and my research institution, UCIBIO. Thanks to Krystallenia Batziou for poster design.

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




As an experienced researcher that has applied atomic force microscopy to a very wide range of applications, I can offer a comprehensive AFM consultancy service. At this time, I am based at UCIBIO, university of Porto. We have a  high-resolution AFM system which is capable of scanning in all the standard modes:

  • Contact
  • Tapping
  • Phase
  • Lateral force
  • Force Spectroscopy

The system is also equipped with large and small scanners to get the optimum results from your samples.

We also have our own custom-made liquid cell which allows scanning liquids, with temperature control between RT and 45 degrees Celsius to an accuracy of 0.1 celcius.


 More importantly,I can advise you on sample preparation, the most appropriate type of scanning based on your needs, and also process and analyse your data for you.

The types of services we can offer include:

  • AFM Training
  • AFM sample preparation
  • Scanning AFM images and other data
  • AFM Sample Processing
  • AFM sample analysis 
  • Full AFM report

Note that I am also an operator of electron microscopes so I can also advise on which is the best technique for your application!

Bacterial Biofilm



To give you a brief idea of the kind of experience we have, the following is a list of SOME of the applications we have worked on in the past:

  • Nanoparticles - sizing, morphology
  • Nanoparticles / Microparticles - surface texture
  • Polymer films - adhesion, topography, composition
  • Polymer fibres
  • Textiles
  • Bacteria and Fungi
  • Protozoan parasites
  • Lipid films
  • Langmuir-Blodgett films
  • Metal surfaces
  • Mammalian cells - both fixed and living
  • Proteins
  • DNA
  • Fine art
  • Hair and tooth surfaces
  • Biosensors

If you are interested in our services, don't hesitate to get in contact with me via This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



All materials, text and imges copyright Peter Eaton