In colloidal probe atomic force microscopy (AFM) surface forces cannot be measured without an accurate determination of the cantilever spring constant. The effective spring constant k depends upon the cantilever geometry and therefore should be measured in situ; additionally, k may be coupled to other measurement parameters. For example, colloidal probe AFM is frequently used to measure the slip length b at solid/liquid boundaries by comparing the measured hydrodynamic force with Vinogradova slip theory (V-theory). However, in this measurement k and b are coupled, hence, b cannot be accurately determined without knowing k to high precision. In this paper, a new in situ spring constant calibration method based upon the residuals, namely, the difference between experimental force-distance data and V-theory is presented and contrasted with two other popular spring constant determination methods. In this residuals calibration method, V-theory is fitted to the experimental force-distance data for a range of systematically varied spring constants where the only adjustable parameter in V-theory is the slip length b. The optimal spring constant k is that value where the residuals are symmetrically displaced about zero for all colloidal probe separations. This residual spring constant calibration method is demonstrated by studying three different liquids (n-decanol, n-hexadecane, and n-octane) and two different silane coated colloidal probe-silicon wafer systems (n-hexadecyltrichlorosilane and n-dodecyltrichlorosilane).
McBride, S. P., & Law, B. M. (2010). Improved in situ spring constant calibration for colloidal probe atomic force microscopy. Review of Scientific Instruments, 81, 113703.