Mono-layers of lipids and their interaction with surface active enzymes (lipases) have been studied for more than a century. During the past decade new insight into this area has been obtained due to the development of scanning probe microscopy. This novel method provides direct microscopic information about the system in question and allows in situ investigations under near physiological conditions. In the present review the theory, experimental set-up and sample requirements of atomic force microscopy (AFM) are described. An overview of recent results is also presented with special emphasis on lipase hydrolysis and kinetics investigated in situ using AFM. (C) 2001 Societe francaise de biochimie et biologie moleculaire/Editions scientifiques et medicales Elsevier SAS. All rights reserved.