Polymer Engineering Faculty Research

The electrochemical surface forces apparatus: The effect of surface roughness, electrostatic surface potentials and anodic oxide growth on interactions forces and friction between dissimilar surfaces in aqueous solutions

Younjin Min, The University of Akron


We present a newly designed electrochemical surface forces apparatus (EC-SFA) that allows control and measurement of surface potentials and interfacial electrochemical reactions with simultaneous measurement of normal interaction forces (with nN resolution), friction forces (with μN resolution), and distances (with Å resolution) between apposing surfaces. We describe three applications of the developed EC-SFA and discuss the wide-range of potential other applications. In particular, we describe measurements of (1) force–distance profiles between smooth and rough gold surfaces and apposing self-assembled monolayer-covered smooth mica surfaces; (2) the effective changing thickness of anodically growing oxide layers with Å-accuracy on rough and smooth surfaces; and (3) friction forces evolving at a metal–ceramic contact, all as a function of the applied electrochemical potential. Interaction forces between atomically smooth surfaces are well-described using DLVO theory and the Hogg–Healy–Fuerstenau approximation for electric double layer interactions between dissimilar surfaces, which unintuitively predicts the possibility of attractive double layer forces between dissimilar surfaces whose surface potentials have similar sign, and repulsive forces between surfaces whose surface potentials have opposite sign. Surface roughness of the gold electrodes leads to an additional exponentially repulsive force in the force–distance profiles that is qualitatively well described by an extended DLVO model that includes repulsive hydration and steric forces. Comparing the measured thickness of the anodic gold oxide layer and the charge consumed for generating this layer allowed the identification of its chemical structure as a hydrated Au(OH)3 phase formed at the gold surface at high positive potentials. The EC-SFA allows, for the first time, one to look at complex long-term transient effects of dynamic processes (e.g., relaxation times), which are also reflected in friction forces while tuning electrochemical surface potentials.