Scanning probe microscopy (SPM) is capable of imaging synthetic polymers and biomolecular systems at sub-molecular resolution, without the need for staining or coating, in a range of environments including gas and liquid, so offering major advantages over other forms of microscopy. However, there are some limitations, which could be alleviated by (i) reducing the force interaction between the probe and specimen and (ii) increasing the rate of imaging. New developments in instrumentation from the SPM group at the University of Bristol to overcome these limitations are discussed and illustrated here.The invention of scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) in 1981 began a revolution in microscopy1, which has led to a whole new family of about a dozen microscopies known collectively as scanning probe microscopy (SPM). The importance of this development is comparable to that of the invention of electron microscopy in the 1930s and arguably as fundamental as the development of the first optical microscopes, since SPM uses an entirely different principle from optical and electron microscopy to achieve imaging at high resolution.

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DOI: 10.1016/S1369-7021(03)00233-5