Atomic force microscopy (AFM) has revolutionized surface characterization by allowing the researcher to examine the molecular structure of virtually any sample under virtually any environmental condition. The AFM is used to produce information about surface topography, elasticity, friction, adhesion, charge density, magnetic structure, or even long-range effects. Compared to traditional spectroscopic surface analytical tools, the AFM suffers from a remarkably low data content. Chemical modification of the tip incorporates chemical information within the measurements. In this way, researchers have obtained compositional maps of heterogeneous materials, measured single-molecule interaction forces between biopolymers, and even differentiated some nuances of cell membranes.Often the performance of a material is governed by how its surface interacts with its environment, and this frequently depends upon the structure and composition of that surface at the molecular scale. This basic fact has driven the development of surface analytical instrumentation for decades. An ideal tool would allow the researcher to know the surface composition of their sample with molecular resolution and in a realistic environment, and even to monitor these molecular processes directly as the sample interacts with its environment.

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DOI: 10.1016/S1369-7021(03)00232-3