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NaMic Report Summary

Project ID: 307338
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: Switzerland

Final Report Summary - NAMIC (Nanowire Atomic Force Microscopy for Real Time Imaging of Nanoscale Biological Processes.)

The goal of the NaMic project was the development of robust, low-force, high-speed AFM technology for imaging dynamic biological processes, in particular for the self-assembly of protein pores and formation of pores in cell- and lipid-membranes. This goal was reached through the development of a new high-speed AFM, a new low-force imaging mode, and the fabrication of new AFM cantilevers.
One of the main enabling factors for HS-AFM is the use of small cantilevers, and in the course of the project we have developed ultra-small cantilevers with deflection readout based on 3d printed nanogranular tunneling resistors. These cantilevers were successfully used for imaging biological samples and for imaging in air and fluid. In order to increase the speed and sensitivity, we have developed HS-AFM cantilevers based on unconventional materials, such as polymers, and polymer-SiN multi-layer systems. For use in fluid, the cantilevers yielded significantly improved strains at the position of the strain sensor. The developed fabrication process is also inherently fluid compatible.

In order to allow high-speed AFM imaging without applying extensive normal and lateral forces on the molecules, we developed a new AFM imaging mode called photothermal off-resonance tapping (PORT). This way we could reduce the impact forces by one order of magnitude. We used this mode and the custom high-speed AFM to image the pore formation of MAC in lipid membranes, as well as the formation of SAS-6 protein rings.

The performance of the final high-speed AFM matches and in some aspect greatly exceeds our expectations. We were able to perform novel biological experiments and discover significant findings about the biological systems. The microfabrication efforts have resulted in a unique method to fabricate high-performance self-sensing cantilevers for biological applications. During the course of the project two PhD students received their degrees and several others performed part of their training on the project. Several high profile publications have been published and two patents filed.

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