Atomic Force Microscopy, Single molecule force Spectroscopy, AFM Nanoindentation, Protein-Nanoparticle Interaction, Force-Distance Spectroscopy, Zeta Potential


Due to their therapeutic applications such as radical scavenging, MRI contrast imaging, Photoluminescence imaging, drug delivery, etc., nanoparticles (NPs) have a significant importance in bio-nanotechnology. The reason that prevents the utilizing NPs for drug delivery in medical field is mostly due to their biocompatibility issues (incompatibility can lead to toxicity and cell death). Changes in the surface conditions of NPs often lead to NP cytotoxicity. Investigating the role of NP surface properties (surface charges and surface chemistry) on their interactions with biomolecules (Cells, protein and DNA) could enhance the current understanding of NP cytotoxicity. Hence, it is highly beneficial to the nanotechnology community to bring more attention towards the enhancement of surface properties of NPs to make them more biocompatible and less toxic to biological systems. Surface functionalization of NPs using specific ligand biomolecules have shown to enhance the protein adsorption and cellular uptake through more favorable interaction pathways. Cerium oxide NPs (CNPs also known as nanoceria) are potential antioxidants in cell culture models and understanding the nature of interaction between cerium oxide NPs and biological proteins and cells are important due to their therapeutic application (especially in site specific drug delivery systems). The surface charges and surface chemistry of CNPs play a major role in protein adsorption and cellular uptake. Hence, by tuning the surface charges and by selecting proper functional molecules on the surface, CNPs exhibiting strong adhesion to biological materials can be prepared. By probing the nanoscale interaction forces acting between CNPs and protein molecules using Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) based force-distance (F-D) spectroscopy, the mechanism of CNP-protein adsorption and CNP cellular uptake can be understood more quantitatively. The work presented in this dissertation is based on the application of AFM in studying the interaction forces as well as the mechanical properties of nanobiomaterials. The research protocol employed in the earlier part of the dissertation is specifically aimed to understand the operation of F-D spectroscopy technique. The elastic properties of thin films of silicon dioxide NPs were investigated using F-D spectroscopy in the high force regime of few 100 nN to 1 µN. Here, sol-gel derived porous nanosilica thin films of varying surface morphology, particle size and porosity were prepared through acid and base catalyzed process. AFM nanoindentation experiments were conducted on these films using the F-D spectroscopy mode and the nanoscale elastic properties of these films were evaluated. The major contribution of this dissertation is a study exploring the interaction forces acting between CNPs and transferrin proteins in picoNewton scale regime using the force-distance spectroscopy technique. This study projects the importance of obtaining appropriate surface charges and surface chemistry so that the NP can exhibit enhanced protein adsorption and NP cellular uptake.


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Graduation Date



Seal, Sudipta


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Engineering and Computer Science


Mechanical, Materials, and Aerospace Engineering

Degree Program

Materials Science and Engineering








Release Date

May 2010

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)