Case Study: A Bespoke Cantilever for Analyzing Biofilm

Dr James Bowen, Nanotechnology research group leader at The Open University, recounts his experience of working with NuNano on a bespoke project in probe development.

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Image Credit: NuNano

Case Study

In 2016, Dr James Bowen observed that he was stretching the currently available technology to its greatest limits when utilizing Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) to study hair care products and hair damage prevention.

By employing colloid probes on commercially available cantilevers, James was able to analyze the applications of nanoscale polymer liquid films in hair care products.

When evaluating liquid residues on hair, he could quantify the extent to which hair conditioning products offered friction protection, and where and when the polymer coating on the hair diminished, resulting in cuticle damage.

The results were satisfactory but James had an appetite for superior analysis of the adhesion and friction forces. Even if he had to produce it himself, he was resolved to find a more effective solution.

James was sure that AFM was the correct method. It offered him both the precision and control necessary to determine exactly what he was observing and the location across the length of the hair.

The challenge was how to attain the correct amount of force to be able to scrape and scratch the liquid polymer on the cuticle surface.

I realized there was a gap in the market between traditional mechanical testing and what was needed to look at materials at this scale, over larger ranges. Using an AFM with really stiff cantilevers, I stood a fighting chance of addressing both these issues. Fundamentally though, all I had was the idea and the dimensions sketched out for the length and width of the cantilever and chip that I felt could do the job. Realizing my idea was the next challenge.

Dr James Bowen, Nanotechnology research group leader at The Open University

Developing New Cantilevers

James had already heard that NuNano is a producer of standard probes. He was alerted to the opportunity of working with NuNano on bespoke product development through a chance conversation with an application scientist at JPK regarding his recent cantilever idea.

After an introductory phone call with the CEO of NuNano, Dr James Vicary, there was a face to face meeting to fully comprehend the needs of the project. James then received a written project specification which precisely outlined his requirements.

What I needed was hundreds of cantilevers fabricated to be different lengths, thicknesses and stiffnesses. Talking to James Vicary helped to scope out the project in a more detailed way. It was great to be able to have that conversation with someone who really got what I was trying to do – and importantly, who had the enthusiasm and courage to give it a go.

Dr James Bowen, Nanotechnology research group leader at The Open University

Having the correct partner company in place who were able and willing to do the work also assisted when securing funding. NuNano’s experience and involvement in the project was highlighted in the grant application which decreased the risk of the project proposal.

Thickness is perhaps the hardest element to control during the cantilever manufacturing process but NuNano were able to produce them ranging from 12.5 to 25-micron thickness, as well as varying lengths.

The outcome was that NuNano provided more than 900 different thickness and width cantilevers as required by James.

James was able to predict the cantilever spring constants by utilizing the selection box of cantilevers offered by NuNano, with an analytical model and the use of the JPK NanoWizard AFM.

Calibrating each cantilever and recording the data, over time it has become possible to accurately predict what thickness is needed to affect the spring constant required for the job.

Dr James Bowen, Nanotechnology research group leader at The Open University

The last stage of the project involves the estimation of the resonant frequency for both and has taken some lengthy coding work. Dr David Cheneler, a colleague from Lancaster University, produced a finite element model in order to complete this.

With the model in place, I simply measure the resonant frequency on the beams. If that’s right, then I know we’ve got the cantilever we want.

Bespoke NuNano cantilevers with different lengths and thicknesses.

Figure 1. Bespoke NuNano cantilevers with different lengths and thicknesses. Image Credit: NuNano

Results

Calibrations are going well,” James continues, “We’ve clearly developed a new platform with lots of potential applications for measuring micro/nano friction on architecturally difficult surfaces.

James is discovering further opportunities with the new platform, along with using it to significantly develop his 2016 research on the friction and wear of human hair fibers.

Commercial cantilevers finish their spring constants around 50 N/m but that’s where my cantilevers start from, up to 3,000 N/m, and even up to 10,000 N/m. This enables you to scrape away biofilms from surfaces, assessing their adhesion. Historically you couldn’t get down to the counter surfaces, due to the large forces involved, but with this technology you can.

Applications could include surface cleanliness, for example observing how household surface cleaners stop the development of bacteria and pathogens; or hygiene, for example dental products, where bugs on the teeth and mouth can be examined.

James will be taking his technology on tour at microscopy conferences in 2020. At the moment, he would like to speak to anyone who might want to find out more about the technology and interacting with the kit.

For those who are inspired and would like to get in touch, Dr James Bowen can be contacted here.

Please get in touch with Dr James Vicary at NuNano if you have a great idea that needs realizing through bespoke development work: [email protected]

Escherichia coli biofilm after six days of growth.

Figure 2. Escherichia coli biofilm after six days of growth. Image Credit: NuNano

Tenocytes on calcium phosphate after seven days of growth.

Figure 3. Tenocytes on calcium phosphate after seven days of growth. Image Credit: NuNano

Acknowledgments

Produced from materials originally authored by James Vicary from NuNano.

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by NuNano.

For more information on this source, please visit NuNano.

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