Engineered peptides capable of binding to silica have been used to provide contrast in chemical force microscopy and tested for their capacity to selectively capture silica nanoparticles (NPs). Gold coated atomic force microscopy (AFM) microcantilevers with integrated tips and colloidal probes were functionalized with engineered peptides through a thiol group of a terminal cysteine which was linked via a glycine trimer to a 12-mer binding sequence. The functionalized probes demonstrated a significantly increased binding force on silicon oxide areas of a gold-patterned silicon wafer, whereas plain gold probes, and those functionalized with a random permutation of the silica binding peptide motif or an all-histidine sequence displayed similar adhesion forces to gold and silicon oxide. As the functionalized probes also allowed contact mode imaging subsequently to the adhesion mapping, also the associated friction contrast was measured and found to be similar to the adhesion contrast. Furthermore, the adsorption of silica NPs onto planar gold surfaces functionalized in the same manner was observed to be selective. Notably, the surface coverage with silica NPs was found to decrease with increasing pH, implying the importance of electrostatic interactions between the peptide and the NPs. Finally, the adsorption of silica NPs was monitored via the decrease in fundamental resonance frequency of an AFM microcantilever functionalized with silica binding peptides.

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See supplementary material at http://dx.doi.org/10.1116/1.4972417 for results of adhesion mapping control experiments using colloidal probes and integrated tips; adhesion mapping and LFM results using an integrated tip functionalised with the scrambled peptide; discussion of potential contributions from deformation and roughness on adhesion measurements; XPS analysis of peptide coated surfaces; SEM image of 100 nm SiO2 NPs on a gold coated silicon substrate; resonance frequency variations of non-functionalized microcantilevers.

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