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July 18, 2005

SEM image showing biological force microscopy

A composite of a scanning electron microscope (SEM) image showing biological force microscopy (BFM), developed by National Science Foundation-funded researchers at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and Virginia State University. BFM measures nanoscale forces between a living microorganism and another surface such as a mineral or another cell. Such measurements are critical to understanding how bacteria and other microorganisms interact with their inorganic environments.

This image shows a bacterium (green) that has attached itself to a BFM cantilever (gold). Nanometer by nanometer, the researchers performing the work will bring a mineral crystal (blue) towards the cantilever, make contact and then withdraw the crystal. The cantilever bends due to either attractive or repulsive forces between the cell and mineral. A laser reflecting off the top of the cantilever hits a detector, measuring the nanoscale forces in real time.

Credit: Dr. Steven Lower, Department of Geology, University of Maryland; and Dr. Michael Hochella, Virginia Tech

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