Surface and Interface Chemistry

Unit code: CHEM40271
Credit Rating: 10
Unit level: Level 4
Teaching period(s): Semester 1
Offered by School of Chemistry
Available as a free choice unit?: N




 Course unit aims:

Many important and interesting reactions in the ‘chemical world’ around us take place at the interface between two materials, with examples to be found in areas such as heterogeneous catalysis, crystal growth, atmospheric and environmental science, and biology. The study of surfaces and interfaces is, however, far from straightforward, since the ‘action’ takes place in a layer usually no more than a few molecules thick, sandwiched between two bulk or ambient phases. This course comprises two parts: (i) some introductory lectures on the properties of surfaces and interfaces, along with the methods by which molecules and atoms in them can be observed and measured; and (ii) some examples in the state-of-the-art of modern surface chemistry, drawn from nanoscience and colloidal materials.


Surface characterisation techniques

Dr Alex Walton, 8 lectures

  • Motivations for surface science
  • Introduction to ultra-high vacuum technology/re-cap gas-kinetic theory
  • Re-cap basic structure of solid surfaces (solid structures, unit cells, Miller indices)
  • Surface unit cell, reconstructions and overlayers.
  • X-Ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy
  • Scanning Probe Microscopies
    • Scanning Tunnelling Microscopy
    • Atomic Force Microscopy
  • Other surface characterisation techniques (TPD, LEED)
  • Frontiers of surface science - in-situ techniques

Characterisation of Colloidal Systems and X-ray methods for Surfaces – incl. application examples

Professor Melissa A. Denecke, 8 lectures

  • X-ray based characterisation and quantification of surfaces and sorbates
    • Crystal truncation rods
    • Surface sensitive grazing incidence X- Ray spectroscopy
    • Total reflection X-ray fluorescence
    • Colloids and their stability - recapitulation of DLVO theory
  • State-of-the-art particle characterisation techniques
    • Scattering techniques
    • Static and dynamic light scattering
    • SAXS, SANS
  • Fractionation-based techniques
    • FFF
  • Microscopic methods
    • SEM, TEM
    • STXM
  • Misc.
    • LIBD
    • ESI-TOF-MS
    • HEXS

Self-assembled monolayers, nanofabrication and nanolithography

Dr Lu-Shin Wong, 5 lectures + 1 problem solving workshop

  • Formation and structure of model organic self-assembled monolayers (SAMs) – gold-alkylthiolate SAMs and siloxane SAMs
  • Physicochemical properties and chemical reactivity on SAMs
  • Applied surface and interface analysis: Chemical analysis of SAMs
  • Case studies in the behaviour of SAMs
  • Approaches for the lithography and nanolithography of SAMs – microcontact printing (μCP); scanning probe nanolithography methods including dip-pen nanolithography (DPN).
  • Case studies in the application of scanning probe methods for nanolithography.

Teaching and learning methods

  • Knowledge covering the principles of modern surface and interface chemistry is presented primarily in lectures.
  • 8 + 8 + 5 lectures + 1 workshop + 1 examples class. Each student has a personal tutor to provide general academic and personal guidance during the course programme. Office hours of the lecturers of this course will be made known to the students.
  • Problem solving and numeracy skills are developed throughout the lectures and in the exam questions. Study skills are developed through library work and assessed by self-evaluation.
  • Critical thinking and critical analysis will be developed and exercised through the example class and workshop.

Knowledge and understanding

Students should be able to:

  • Describe the significance of a range of surface properties, including surface structure, charge, overlayers and adsorbed species (atoms, molecules and reactive molecular fragments), and apply this knowledge to explain the outcomes of surface/interface reactions.
  • Describe surface and particle analytical techniques (XPS/PES, microscopies, diffraction techniques, as well as scattering, fractionation and imaging particle sizing methods) and be able to classify them according to the information they provide.
  • Apply knowledge of surface analysis techniques to explain how information can be gained regarding the behaviour and structure of surfaces and interfaces.
  • Explain the significance of interfaces in chemical processes, including heterogeneous catalysis, soft matter systems and in environmental transport.

Intellectual skills

  • Apply the analytical methods taught to new surface materials, in order to investigate the surface/interface’s properties.
  • Perform calculations and data analysis to derive qualitative and quantitative information about the surface/interface.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Problem solving and numeracy skills
  • Critical thinking and critical analysis

Assessment methods

  • Written exam - 100%

Recommended reading


  • Surface Science: Foundations of Catalysis and Nanoscience by Kurt W. Kolasinski, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, ISBN 9781119990352
  • Surface Analysis: The Principal Techniques (2009, 2nd edn.), eds. J. C. Vickerman, I. S. Gilmore, Wiley, ISBN 978-0-470-01763-0
  • Surfaces by Gary Attard and Colin Barnes, Oxford Chemistry Primers, ISBN 978-0198556862
  • Nanochemistry: A Chemical Approach to Nanomaterials (2009, 2nd edn.) G. A. Ozin, A. C. Arsenault, L. Cademartiri, RSC Publishing, ISBN 978-1847558954
  • Colloid Science: Principles, Methods and Applications, Terence Cosgrove, Ed., John Wiley& Sons, ISBN 978-1-4443-2020-6

Book chapters, review articles, and further references available through the library online will be provided during the course.

Feedback methods

Students will attend three small group tutorials during the course, at which they will receive feedback both on their performance on set questions and on their progress with the course.

Study hours

  • Assessment written exam - 2 hours
  • Lectures - 21 hours
  • Tutorials - 2 hours
  • Independent study hours - 75 hours

Teaching staff

Lu Shin Wong - Unit coordinator

Melissa Anne Denecke - Unit coordinator

Alex Walton - Unit coordinator

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