Diamond Colloidal Probe Force Spectroscopy
Diamond is a highly attractive coating material as it is characterized by a wide optical transparency window, a high thermal conductivity, and an extraordinary robustness due to its mechanical properties and its chemical inertness. In particular, the latter has aroused a great deal of interest for scanning probe microscopy applications in recent years. In this study, we present a novel method for the fabrication of atomic force microscopy (AFM) probes for force spectroscopy using robust diamond-coated spheres, i.e., colloidal particles. The so-called colloidal probe technique is commonly used to study interactions of single colloidal particles, e.g., on biological samples like living cells, or to measure mechanical properties like the Young's modulus. Under physiological measurement conditions, contamination of the particle often strongly limits the measurement time and often impedes reusability of the probe. Diamond as a chemically inert material allows treatment with harsh chemicals without degradation to refurbish the probe. Apart from that, the large surface area of spherical probes makes sensitive studies on surface interactions possible. This provides detailed insight into the interface of diamond with other materials and/or solvents. To fabricate such probes, silica microspheres were coated with a nanocrystalline diamond film and attached to tipless cantilevers. Measurements on soft polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) show that the manufactured diamond spheres, even though possessing a rough surface, can be used to determine the Young's modulus from a Derjaguin-Muller-Toporov (DMT) fit. By means of force spectroscopy, they can readily probe force interactions of diamond with different substrate materials under varying conditions. The influence of the surface termination of the diamond was investigated concerning the interaction with flat diamond substrates in air. Additionally, measurements in solution, using varying salt concentrations, were carried out, which provide information on double-layer and van-der-Waals forces at the interface. The developed technique offers detailed insight into surface chemistry and physics of diamond with other materials concerning long and short-range force interactions and may provide a valuable probe for investigations under harsh conditions but also on biological samples, e.g., living cells, due to the robustness, chemical inertness, and biocompatibility of diamond.