Atomic force microscopy probing methods for soft viscoelastic synthetic and biological materials and structures
Young, Seth Lawton
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The focus of this dissertation is on refining atomic force micrscopy (AFM) methods and data analysis routines to measure the viscoelastic mechanical properties of soft polymer and biological materials in relevant fluid environments and in vivo using a range of relevant temperatures, applied forces, and loading rates. These methods are directly applied here to a several interesting synthetic and biological materials. First, we probe poly(n-butyl methacrylate) (PnBMA), above, at and below its glass transition temperature in order to verify our experimental procedure. Next, we use AFM to study the viscoelastic properties of coating materials and additives of silicone-based soft contact lenses in a tear-like saline solution. Finally, a major focus in this dissertation is determining the fundamental mechanical properties that contribute to the excellent sensitivity of the strain sensing organs in a wandering spider (Cupiennius salei) by probing under in vivo conditions. These strain-sensing organs are known to have a significant viscoelastic component. Thus, the cuticle of living spiders is directly investigated in near-natural environments (high humidity, temperatures from 15-40 °C). The main achievements of these studies can be summarized through the following findings: We suggest that full time-temperature-modulus relationships are necessary for the understanding of soft materials systems, and present a practical method for obtaining such relationships. These studies will have a direct impact on both scientists in the metrology field by developing practical experimental procedures and data analysis routines to investigate viscoelastic mechanical properties at the nanoscale, and future materials scientists and engineers by showing via spider mechanosensory systems how viscoelasticity can be applied for functional use in sensing technology.