A cantilever's response to stimuli such as mechanical stress, temperature change, and chemical and biochemical interactions can be measured in a variety ways.

Some responses that are of special interest are cantilever deformation, the change in resonance frequency, and the current between the cantilever and a surface. Microcantilever-based sensors are categorised into two main measurement regimes: static deformation (static mode; DC mode) and resonance response variation (dynamic mode; AC mode). The theoretical background for these modes of operation is provided. Static cantilever deflection can be caused by external forces exerted on the cantilever, as in the case of an AFM, or by intrinsic stresses generated on the cantilever surface or within the cantilever. However, the resonance response variation can be caused by a mass loading effect or by viscous damping from various media.

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