Controlled graphene encapsulation: A nanoscale shield for characterising single bacterial cells in liquid

Jiayao Li, Changxi Zheng, Boyin Liu, Tsengming Chou, Yeonuk Kim, Shi Qiu, Jian Li, Wenyi Yan, Jing Fu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


High-resolution single-cell imaging in their native or near-native state has received considerable interest for decades. In this research, we present an innovative approach that can be employed to study both morphological and nano-mechanical properties of hydrated single bacterial cells. The proposed strategy is to encapsulate wet cells with monolayer graphene with a newly developed water membrane approach, followed by imaging with both electron microscopy (EM) and atomic force microscopy (AFM). A computational framework was developed to provide additional insights, with the detailed nanoindentation process on graphene modelled based on the finite element method. The model was first validated by calibration with polymer materials of known properties, and the contribution of graphene was then studied and corrected to determine the actual moduli of the encapsulated hydrated sample. Application of the proposed approach was performed on hydrated bacterial cells (Klebsiella pneumoniae) to correlate the structural and mechanical information. EM and energy-dispersive x-ray spectroscopy imaging confirmed that the cells in their near-native stage can be studied inside the miniaturised environment enabled with graphene encapsulation. The actual moduli of the encapsulated hydrated cells were determined based on the developed computational model in parallel, with results comparable with those acquired with wet AFM. It is expected that the successful establishment of controlled graphene encapsulation offers a new route for probing liquid/live cells with scanning probe microscopy, as well as correlative imaging of hydrated samples for both biological and material sciences.

Original languageEnglish
Article number365705
Number of pages11
Issue number36
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jul 2018


  • AFM
  • electron imaging
  • encapsulation
  • FEA
  • grapheme

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