Tapping mode atomic force microscopy (TM-AFM) in an ambient environment is a widely employed tool in the field of characterization of materials at the nanoscale. Significant advances have recently been made in the understanding of the physics behind some of the complexities of its operation, the most profound being the prediction and demonstration of the existence of the attractive and repulsive regimes of tip-sample interaction. In this paper we present an investigation of the criteria required for accessing the two imaging regimes, a simple method for controlling the transition between them in situ, and an assessment of their consequences for topographic and phase shift images of DNA. We find that the transition from repulsive to attractive regime imaging is characterized by a large increase in topographic height and concomitant decrease and sign inversion of the phase shift recorded over single molecules of DNA on mica. By varying the frequency at which the cantilever is driven, we can select which regime we wish to operate in routinely and reproducibly. Controlling the tip-sample interaction in this way greatly improves images of fragile nanoscale structures such as single molecules. (Some figures in this article are in colour only in the electronic version).
- SAMPLE INTERACTION REGIMES