Date of Award

Summer 2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering

Committee Director

Shizhi Qian

Committee Member

Venkat Maruthamuthu

Committee Member

Xiaoyu Zhang

Committee Member

Yan Peng


The atomic force microscope (AFM) is a probe-based microscope that uses nanoscale and structural imaging where high resolution is desired. AFM has also been used in mechanical, electrical, and thermal engineering applications. This unique technique provides vital local material properties like the modulus of elasticity, hardness, surface potential, Hamaker constant, and the surface charge density from force versus displacement curve. Therefore, AFM was used to measure both the diameter and mechanical properties of the collagen nanostraws in human costal cartilage. Human costal cartilage forms a bridge between the sternum and bony ribs. The chest wall of some humans is deformed due to defective costal cartilage. However, costal cartilage is less studied compared to load bearing cartilage. Results show that there is a difference between chemical fixation and non-chemical fixation treatments. Our findings imply that the patients' chest wall is mechanically weak and protein deposition is abnormal. This may impact the nanostraws' ability to facilitate fluid flow between the ribs and the sternum. At present, AFM is the only tool for imaging cells' ultra-structure at the nanometer scale because cells are not homogeneous. The first layer of the cell is called the cell membrane, and the layer under it is made of the cytoskeleton. Cancerous cells are different from normal cells in term of cell growth, mechanical properties, and ultra-structure. Here, force is measured with very high sensitivity and this is accomplished with highly sensitive probes such as a nano-probe. We performed experiments to determine ultra-structural differences that emerge when such cancerous cells are subject to treatments such as with drugs and electric pulses. Jurkat cells are cancerous cells. These cells were pulsed at different conditions. Pulsed and non-pulsed Jurkat cell ultra-structures were investigated at the nano meter scale using AFM. Jurkat cell mechanical properties were measured under different conditions. In addition, AFM was used to measure the charge density of cell surface in physiological conditions. We found that the treatments changed the cancer cells' ultra-structural and mechanical properties at the nanometer scale. Finally, we used AFM to characterize many non-biological materials with relevance to biomedical science. Various metals, polymers, and semi-conducting materials were characterized in air and multiple liquid media through AFM - techniques from which a plethora of industries can benefit. This applies especially to the fledging solar industry which has found much promise in nanoscopic insights. Independent of the material being examined, a reliable method to measure the surface force between a nano probe and a sample surface in a variety of ionic concentrations was also found in the process of procuring these measurements. The key findings were that the charge density increases with the increase of the medium's ionic concentration.