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Wang, H., Xie, Q., Xu, XG.,
Advanced drug delivery reviews
Small biomolecules at the subcellular level are building blocks for the manifestation of complex biological activities. However, non-intrusive in situ investigation of biological systems has been long daunted by the low spatial resolution and poor sensitivity of conventional light microscopies. Traditional infrared (IR) spectro-microscopy can enable label-free visualization of chemical bonds without extrinsic labeling but is still bound by Abbe's diffraction limit. This review article introduces a way to bypass the optical diffraction limit and improve the sensitivity for mid-IR methods - using tip-enhanced light nearfield in atomic force microscopy (AFM) operated in tapping and peak force tapping modes. Working principles of well-established scattering-type scanning near-field optical microscopy (s-SNOM) and two relatively new techniques, namely, photo-induced force microscopy (PiFM) and peak force infrared (PFIR) microscopy, will be briefly presented. With ∼ 10-20 nm spatial resolution and monolayer sensitivity, their recent applications in revealing nanoscale chemical heterogeneities in a wide range of biological systems, including biomolecules, cells, tissues, and biomaterials, will be reviewed and discussed. We also envision several future improvements of AFM-based tapping and peak force tapping mode nano-IR methods that permit them to better serve as a versatile platform for uncovering biological mechanisms at the fundamental level.