Thickness and tension are important physical parameters of model cell membranes. However, traditional methods to measure these quantities require multiple experiments using separate equipment. This work introduces a new multi-step procedure for directly accessing in situ multiple physical properties of droplet interface bilayers (DIB), including specific capacitance (related to thickness), lipid monolayer tension in the Plateau-Gibbs border, and bilayer tension. The procedure employs a combination of mechanical manipulation of bilayer area followed by electrowetting of the capacitive interface to examine the sensitivities of bilayer capacitance to area and contact angle to voltage, respectively. These data allow for determining the specific capacitance of the membrane and surface tension of the lipid monolayer, which are then used to compute bilayer thickness and tension, respectively. The use of DIBs affords accurate optical imaging of the connected droplets in addition to electrical measurements of bilayer capacitance, and it allows for reversibly varying bilayer area. After validating the accuracy of the technique with diphytanoyl phosphatidylcholine (DPhPC) DIBs in hexadecane, the method is applied herein to quantify separately the effects on membrane thickness and tension caused by varying the solvent in which the DIB is formed and introducing cholesterol into the bilayer. Because the technique relies only on capacitance measurements and optical images to determine both thickness and tension, this approach is specifically well-suited for studying the effects of peptides, biomolecules, natural and synthetic nanoparticles, and other species that accumulate within membranes without altering bilayer conductance.
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© The Royal Society of Chemistry 2015.