There is a strong demand for nanoindentation methods to probe the heterogeneous viscoelastic properties of soft tissues. Important applications include diagnosis of early onset diseases such as arthritis and investigations into cellular mechanoresponse in tissue. Quantification of tissue mechanics at length and time scales relevant to biological processes, however, remains a technical challenge. Here, we present a new nanoindentation approach that is ideally suited to probe the viscoelastic properties of soft, hydrated tissues. We built a ferrule-top probe that uses wavelength modulation in a Fabry–Pérot cavity configuration to detect cantilever deflection and to drive a feedback-controlled piezoelectric actuator. This technique allows us to control the static load applied onto the sample using an all-optical mm-sized probe. We extract the local elastic and viscous moduli of the samples by superposing a small oscillatory load and recording the indentation depth at the frequency of oscillation. By using a set of silicone elastomers with a range of stiffnesses representative of biological tissues, we demonstrate that the technique can accurately determine moduli over a wide range (0.1–100 kPa) and over a frequency range of 0.01–10 Hz. Direct comparison with macroscopic rheology measurements yields excellent quantitative agreement, without any fitting parameters. Finally, we show how this method can provide a spatially-resolved map of large variations in mechanical properties (orders of magnitude) across the surface of soft samples thanks to high sensitivity over large (>μm) cantilever deflections. This approach paves the way to investigations into the local dynamic mechanical properties of biological soft matter.

Soft Matter
Biological Soft Matter-Former Group

van Hoorn, H., Kurniawan, N., Koenderink, G., & Iannuzzi, D. (2016). Local dynamic mechanical analysis for heterogeneous soft matter using ferrule-top indentation. Soft Matter, 12, 3066–3073. doi:10.1039/C6SM00300A