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A biomembrane sample system where millimolar changes of cations induce reversible large scale (≥ 200 Å) changes in the membrane-to-surface distance is described. The system composes of a free-floating bilayer, formed adjacent to a self-assembled monolayer (SAM). To examine the membrane movements, differently charged floating bilayers in the presence and absence of Ca2+ and Na+, respectively, were examined using neutron reflectivity and quartz crystal microbalance measurements, alongside molecular dynamics simulations. In neutron reflectivity the variation of Ca2+ and Na+ concentration enabled precision manipulation of the membrane-to-surface distance. Simulations suggest that Ca2+ ions bridge between SAM and bilayer whereas the more diffuse binding of Na+, especially to bilayers, is unable to fully overcome the repulsion between anionic floating bilayer and anionic SAM. Reproduced neutron reflectivity results with quartz crystal microbalance demonstrate the potential of this easily producible sample system to become a standard analysis tool for e.g. investigating membrane binding effects, endocytosis and cell signaling.

Original publication




Journal article


J Colloid Interface Sci

Publication Date





297 - 311


Biological membranes, Biomimetic, Biosensors, Calcium, Cation binding, Cation switch, Distance tuning, Electrostatics, Model membranes, Molecular dynamics, Neutron reflectometry, Self-assembled monolayer