The atomic force microscope (AFM) can be used to image the surface of both conductors and nonconductors even if they are covered with water or aqueous solutions. An AFM was used that combines microfabricated cantilevers with a previously described optical lever system to monitor deflection. Images of mica demonstrate that atomic resolution is possible on rigid materials, thus opening the possibility of atomic-scale corrosion experiments on nonconductors. Images of polyalanine, an amino acid polymer, show the potential of the AFM for revealing the structure of molecules important in biology and medicine. Finally, a series of ten images of the polymerization of fibrin, the basic component of blood clots, illustrate the potential of the AFM for revealing subtle details of biological processes as they occur in real time.

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