Subnanometer-scale vertical z-resolution coupled with large lateral area imaging, label-free, noncontact, and in situ advantages make the technique of optical imaging ellipsometry (IE) highly suitable for quantitative characterization of lipid bilayers supported on oxide substrates and submerged in aqueous phases. This article demonstrates the versatility of IE in quantitative characterization of structural and functional properties of supported phospholipid membranes using previously well-characterized examples. These include 1), a single-step determination of bilayer thickness to 0.2 nm accuracy and large-area lateral uniformity using photochemically patterned single 1,2-dimyristoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine bilayers; 2), hydration-induced spreading kinetics of single-fluid 1-palmitoyl-2-oleoyl-sn- glycero-3-phosphocholine bilayers to illustrate the in situ capability and image acquisition speed; 3), a large-area morphological characterization of phase-separating binary mixtures of 1,2-dilauroyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine and galactosylceramide; and 4), binding of cholera-toxin B subunits to GM 1-incorporating bilayers. Additional insights derived from these ellipsometric measurements are also discussed for each of these applications. Agreement with previous studies confirms that IE provides a simple and convenient tool for a routine, quantitative characterization of these membrane properties. Our results also suggest that IE complements more widely used fluorescence and scanning probe microscopies by combining large-area measurements with high vertical resolution without the use of labeled lipids.
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