Surface science
Surface science is the study of physical
Physics is a natural science that involves the study of matter and its motion through spacetime, along with related concepts such as energy and force. More broadly, it is the general analysis of nature, conducted in order to understand how the universe behaves.Physics is one of the oldest academic...

 and chemical
Chemistry is the science of matter, especially its chemical reactions, but also its composition, structure and properties. Chemistry is concerned with atoms and their interactions with other atoms, and particularly with the properties of chemical bonds....

 phenomena that occur at the interface
Interface (chemistry)
An interface is a surface forming a common boundary among two different phases, such as an insoluble solid and a liquid, two immiscible liquids or a liquid and an insoluble gas. The importance of the interface depends on which type of system is being treated: the bigger the quotient area/volume,...

 of two phases
Phase (matter)
In the physical sciences, a phase is a region of space , throughout which all physical properties of a material are essentially uniform. Examples of physical properties include density, index of refraction, and chemical composition...

, including solid
Solid is one of the three classical states of matter . It is characterized by structural rigidity and resistance to changes of shape or volume. Unlike a liquid, a solid object does not flow to take on the shape of its container, nor does it expand to fill the entire volume available to it like a...

Liquid is one of the three classical states of matter . Like a gas, a liquid is able to flow and take the shape of a container. Some liquids resist compression, while others can be compressed. Unlike a gas, a liquid does not disperse to fill every space of a container, and maintains a fairly...

 interfaces, solid–gas
Gas is one of the three classical states of matter . Near absolute zero, a substance exists as a solid. As heat is added to this substance it melts into a liquid at its melting point , boils into a gas at its boiling point, and if heated high enough would enter a plasma state in which the electrons...

 interfaces, solid–vacuum
In everyday usage, vacuum is a volume of space that is essentially empty of matter, such that its gaseous pressure is much less than atmospheric pressure. The word comes from the Latin term for "empty". A perfect vacuum would be one with no particles in it at all, which is impossible to achieve in...

 interfaces, and liquid-gas interfaces. It includes the fields of surface chemistry and surface physics. Some related practical applications are classed as surface engineering
Surface engineering
Surface engineering is the sub-discipline of materials science which deals with the surface of solid matter. It has applications to chemistry, mechanical engineering, and electrical engineering ....

. The science encompasses concepts such as heterogeneous catalysis
Heterogeneous catalysis
In chemistry, heterogeneous catalysis refers to the form of catalysis where the phase of the catalyst differs from that of the reactants. Phase here refers not only to solid, liquid, vs gas, but also immiscible liquids, e.g. oil and water. The great majority of practical heterogeneous catalysts...

, semiconductor device fabrication, fuel cell
Fuel cell
A fuel cell is a device that converts the chemical energy from a fuel into electricity through a chemical reaction with oxygen or another oxidizing agent. Hydrogen is the most common fuel, but hydrocarbons such as natural gas and alcohols like methanol are sometimes used...

s, self-assembled monolayer
Self-assembled monolayer
A self assembled monolayer is an organized layer of amphiphilic molecules in which one end of the molecule, the “head group” shows a specific, reversible affinity for a substrate...

s, and adhesive
An adhesive, or glue, is a mixture in a liquid or semi-liquid state that adheres or bonds items together. Adhesives may come from either natural or synthetic sources. The types of materials that can be bonded are vast but they are especially useful for bonding thin materials...

s. Surface science is closely related to interface and colloid science
Interface and colloid science
Interface and colloid science is an interdisciplinary intersection of branches of chemistry, physics, nanoscience and other fields dealing with colloids, heterogeneous systems consisting of a mechanical mixture of particles between 1 nm and 1000 nm dispersed in a continuous...

. Interfacial chemistry and physics are common subjects for both. The methods are different. In addition, interface and colloid science studies macroscopic
The macroscopic scale is the length scale on which objects or processes are of a size which is measurable and observable by the naked eye.When applied to phenomena and abstract objects, the macroscopic scale describes existence in the world as we perceive it, often in contrast to experiences or...

 phenomena that occur in heterogeneous systems due to peculiarities of interfaces.


The field of surface chemistry started with heterogeneous catalysis
Heterogeneous catalysis
In chemistry, heterogeneous catalysis refers to the form of catalysis where the phase of the catalyst differs from that of the reactants. Phase here refers not only to solid, liquid, vs gas, but also immiscible liquids, e.g. oil and water. The great majority of practical heterogeneous catalysts...

 pioneered by Paul Sabatier
Paul Sabatier (chemist)
Paul Sabatier FRS was a French chemist, born at Carcassonne. He taught science classes most of his life before he became Dean of the Faculty of Science at the University of Toulouse in 1905....

 on hydrogenation
Hydrogenation, to treat with hydrogen, also a form of chemical reduction, is a chemical reaction between molecular hydrogen and another compound or element, usually in the presence of a catalyst. The process is commonly employed to reduce or saturate organic compounds. Hydrogenation typically...

 and Fritz Haber
Fritz Haber
Fritz Haber was a German chemist, who received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1918 for his development for synthesizing ammonia, important for fertilizers and explosives. Haber, along with Max Born, proposed the Born–Haber cycle as a method for evaluating the lattice energy of an ionic solid...

 on the Haber process
Haber process
The Haber process, also called the Haber–Bosch process, is the nitrogen fixation reaction of nitrogen gas and hydrogen gas, over an enriched iron or ruthenium catalyst, which is used to industrially produce ammonia....

. Irving Langmuir
Irving Langmuir
Irving Langmuir was an American chemist and physicist. His most noted publication was the famous 1919 article "The Arrangement of Electrons in Atoms and Molecules" in which, building on Gilbert N. Lewis's cubical atom theory and Walther Kossel's chemical bonding theory, he outlined his...

 was also one of the founders of this field, and the scientific journal on surface science, Langmuir
Langmuir (journal)
Langmuir is a peer-reviewed scientific journal, published since 1985 by the American Chemical Society. It publishes research in the areas of surface chemistry and colloid chemistry...

, bears his name. The Langmuir adsorption equation
Langmuir equation
The Langmuir equation relates the coverage or adsorption of molecules on a solid surface to gas pressure or concentration of a medium above the solid surface at a fixed temperature. The equation was developed by Irving Langmuir in 1916...

 is used to model monolayer adsorption where all surface adsorption sites have the same affinity for the adsorbing species. Gerhard Ertl
Gerhard Ertl
Gerhard Ertl is a German physicist and a Professor emeritus at the Department of Physical Chemistry, Fritz-Haber-Institut der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft in Berlin, Germany...

 in 1974 described for the first time the adsorption of hydrogen
Hydrogen is the chemical element with atomic number 1. It is represented by the symbol H. With an average atomic weight of , hydrogen is the lightest and most abundant chemical element, constituting roughly 75% of the Universe's chemical elemental mass. Stars in the main sequence are mainly...

 on a palladium
Palladium is a chemical element with the chemical symbol Pd and an atomic number of 46. It is a rare and lustrous silvery-white metal discovered in 1803 by William Hyde Wollaston. He named it after the asteroid Pallas, which was itself named after the epithet of the Greek goddess Athena, acquired...

 surface using a novel technique called LEED. Similar studies with platinum
Platinum is a chemical element with the chemical symbol Pt and an atomic number of 78. Its name is derived from the Spanish term platina del Pinto, which is literally translated into "little silver of the Pinto River." It is a dense, malleable, ductile, precious, gray-white transition metal...

, nickel
Nickel is a chemical element with the chemical symbol Ni and atomic number 28. It is a silvery-white lustrous metal with a slight golden tinge. Nickel belongs to the transition metals and is hard and ductile...

, and iron
Iron is a chemical element with the symbol Fe and atomic number 26. It is a metal in the first transition series. It is the most common element forming the planet Earth as a whole, forming much of Earth's outer and inner core. It is the fourth most common element in the Earth's crust...

  followed. Most recent developments in surface sciences include the 2007 Nobel Prize of Chemistry winner Gerhard Ertl's advancements in surface chemistry, specifically
his investigation of the interaction between carbon monoxide molecules and platinum surfaces.

Surface chemistry

Surface chemistry can be roughly defined as the study of chemical reactions at interfaces. It is closely related to surface engineering
Surface engineering
Surface engineering is the sub-discipline of materials science which deals with the surface of solid matter. It has applications to chemistry, mechanical engineering, and electrical engineering ....

, which aims at modifying the chemical composition of a surface by incorporation of selected elements or functional groups that produce various desired effects or improvements in the properties of the surface or interface. Surface chemistry also overlaps with electrochemistry
Electrochemistry is a branch of chemistry that studies chemical reactions which take place in a solution at the interface of an electron conductor and an ionic conductor , and which involve electron transfer between the electrode and the electrolyte or species in solution.If a chemical reaction is...

. Surface science is of particular importance to the field of heterogeneous catalysis
Catalysis is the change in rate of a chemical reaction due to the participation of a substance called a catalyst. Unlike other reagents that participate in the chemical reaction, a catalyst is not consumed by the reaction itself. A catalyst may participate in multiple chemical transformations....


The adhesion of gas or liquid molecules to the surface is known as adsorption
Adsorption is the adhesion of atoms, ions, biomolecules or molecules of gas, liquid, or dissolved solids to a surface. This process creates a film of the adsorbate on the surface of the adsorbent. It differs from absorption, in which a fluid permeates or is dissolved by a liquid or solid...

. This can be due to either chemisorption
Chemisorption is a sub-class of adsorption, driven by a chemical reaction occurring at the exposed surface. A new chemical species is generated at the adsorbant surface...

 or by physisorption
Physisorption, also called physical adsorption, is a process in which the electronic structure of the atom or molecule is barely perturbed upon adsorption...

. These too are included in surface chemistry.

The behavior of a solution based interface is affected by the surface charge, dipoles, energies, and their distribution within the electrical double layer.

Surface physics

Surface physics can be roughly defined as the study of physical changes that occur at interfaces. It overlaps with surface chemistry. Some of the things investigated by surface physics include surface states
Surface states
Surface states are electronic states found at the surface of materials. They are formed due to the sharp transition from solid material that ends with a surface and are found only at the atom layers closest to the surface. The termination of a material with a surface leads to a change of the...

, surface diffusion
Surface diffusion
Surface diffusion is a general process involving the motion of adatoms, molecules, and atomic clusters at solid material surfaces. The process can generally be thought of in terms of particles jumping between adjacent adsorption sites on a surface, as in figure 1...

, surface reconstruction
Surface reconstruction
Surface reconstruction refers to the process by which atoms at the surface of a crystal assume a different structure than that of the bulk. Surface reconstructions are important in that they help in the understanding of surface chemistry for various materials, especially in the case where another...

, surface phonons and plasmons, epitaxy
Epitaxy refers to the deposition of a crystalline overlayer on a crystalline substrate, where the overlayer is in registry with the substrate. In other words, there must be one or more preferred orientations of the overlayer with respect to the substrate for this to be termed epitaxial growth. The...

 and surface enhanced Raman scattering
Surface Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy
Surface enhanced Raman spectroscopy or surface enhanced Raman scattering is a surface-sensitive technique that enhances Raman scattering by molecules adsorbed on rough metal surfaces...

, the emission and tunneling of electrons, spintronics
Spintronics , also known as magnetoelectronics, is an emerging technology that exploits both the intrinsic spin of the electron and its associated magnetic moment, in addition to its fundamental electronic charge, in solid-state devices.An additional effect occurs when a spin-polarized current is...

, and the self-assembly of nanostructure
A nanostructure is an object of intermediate size between molecular and microscopic structures.In describing nanostructures it is necessary to differentiate between the number of dimensions on the nanoscale. Nanotextured surfaces have one dimension on the nanoscale, i.e., only the thickness of the...

s on surface.

Analysis techniques

The study and analysis of surfaces involves both physical and chemical analysis techniques.

Several modern methods probe the topmost 1–10 nm of the of surface
In mathematics, specifically in topology, a surface is a two-dimensional topological manifold. The most familiar examples are those that arise as the boundaries of solid objects in ordinary three-dimensional Euclidean space R3 — for example, the surface of a ball...

s exposed to vacuum. These include X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy
X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy
X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy is a quantitative spectroscopic technique that measures the elemental composition, empirical formula, chemical state and electronic state of the elements that exist within a material...

, Auger electron spectroscopy
Auger electron spectroscopy
Auger electron spectroscopy is a common analytical technique used specifically in the study of surfaces and, more generally, in the area of materials science...

, low-energy electron diffraction, electron energy loss spectroscopy
Electron energy loss spectroscopy
In electron energy loss spectroscopy a material is exposed to a beam of electrons with a known, narrow range of kinetic energies. Some of the electrons will undergo inelastic scattering, which means that they lose energy and have their paths slightly and randomly deflected...

, thermal desorption spectroscopy
Thermal desorption spectroscopy
Thermal desorption spectroscopy , also known as temperature programmed desorption is a Buzzword for the method of observing desorbed molecules from a surface when the surface temperature is increased...

, ion scattering spectroscopy, secondary ion mass spectrometry
Secondary ion mass spectrometry
Secondary ion mass spectrometry is a technique used in materials science and surface science to analyze the composition of solid surfaces and thin films by sputtering the surface of the specimen with a focused primary ion beam and collecting and analyzing ejected secondary ions...

, Dual polarization interferometry, and other surface analysis methods included in the list of materials analysis methods. Many of these techniques require vacuum as they rely on the detection of electrons or ions emitted from the surface under study. Moreover, in general ultra high vacuum
Ultra high vacuum
Ultra-high vacuum is the vacuum regime characterised by pressures lower than about 10−7 pascal or 100 nanopascals . UHV requires the use of unusual materials in construction and by heating the entire system to 180°C for several hours to remove water and other trace gases which adsorb on the...

, in the range of 10−7 pascal
Pascal (unit)
The pascal is the SI derived unit of pressure, internal pressure, stress, Young's modulus and tensile strength, named after the French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer, and philosopher Blaise Pascal. It is a measure of force per unit area, defined as one newton per square metre...

 pressure or better, is necessary to reduce surface contamination by residual gas, by reducing the number of molecules reaching the sample over a given time period. At 0.1 mPa (10−6 Torr), it only takes 1 second to cover a surface with a contaminant, so much lower pressures are needed for measurements.

Purely optical techniques can be used to study interfaces under a wide variety of conditions. Reflection-absorption infrared, dual polarisation interferometry
Dual Polarisation Interferometry
Dual polarization interferometry is an analytical technique that can probe molecular scale layers adsorbed to the surface of a waveguide by using the evanescent wave of a laser beam confined to the waveguide...

, surface enhanced Raman
Surface Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy
Surface enhanced Raman spectroscopy or surface enhanced Raman scattering is a surface-sensitive technique that enhances Raman scattering by molecules adsorbed on rough metal surfaces...

, and sum frequency generation
Sum frequency generation
Sum-frequency generation is a non-linear optical process. This phenomenon is based on the annihilation of two input photons at angular frequencies \omega_1 and \omega_2 while, simultaneously, one photon at frequency \omega_3 is generated...

 spectroscopies can be used to probe solid–vacuum as well as solid–gas, solid–liquid, and liquid–gas surfaces. Dual Polarization Interferometry is used to quantify the order and disruption in birefringent thin films. This has been used, for example, to study the formation of lipid bilayers and their interaction with membrane proteins.

Modern physical analysis methods include scanning-tunneling microscopy
Scanning tunneling microscope
A scanning tunneling microscope is an instrument for imaging surfaces at the atomic level. Its development in 1981 earned its inventors, Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer , the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1986. For an STM, good resolution is considered to be 0.1 nm lateral resolution and...

 (STM) and a family of methods descended from it. These microscopies have considerably increased the ability and desire of surface scientists to measure the physical structure of many surfaces. This increase is related to a more general interest in nanotechnology
Nanotechnology is the study of manipulating matter on an atomic and molecular scale. Generally, nanotechnology deals with developing materials, devices, or other structures possessing at least one dimension sized from 1 to 100 nanometres...


See also

  • Kelvin probe force microscope
    Kelvin probe force microscope
    Kelvin probe force microscopy , also known as surface potential microscopy, is a noncontact variant of atomic force microscopy that was invented in 1991. With KPFM, the work function of surfaces can be observed at atomic or molecular scales...

  • Micromeritics
    Micromeritics is the science and technology of small particles. The knowledge and control of the size of particles is of importance in pharmacy and materials science. The size, and hence the surface area of a particle, can be related to the physical, chemical and pharmacologic properties of drugs...

  • Protein Surface Modification of Biomaterials
  • Surface finishing
    Surface finishing
    Surface finishing is a broad range of industrial processes that alter the surface of a manufactured item to achieve a certain property. Finishing processes may be employed to: improve appearance, adhesion or wettability, solderability, corrosion resistance, tarnish resistance, chemical resistance,...

  • Surface modification
  • Tribology
    Tribology is the science and engineering of interacting surfaces in relative motion. It includes the study and application of the principles of friction, lubrication and wear...

External links

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