Surface charge microscopy: Novel technique for mapping charge-mosaic surfaces in electrolyte solutions

Document Type


Publication Date



The effective surface potential, called the ζ potential, is commonly determined from electrophoretic mobility measurements for particles moving in a solution in response to an electric field applied between two electrodes. The situation can be reversed, with the solution being forced to flow through a plug of packed particles, and the streaming potential of the particles can be calculated. A significant limitation of these electrokinetic measurements is that only an average value of the ζ potential/streaming potential is measured-regardless of whether the surface charge distribution is homogeneous or otherwise. However, in real-world situations, nearly all solids (and liquids) of technological significance exhibit surface heterogeneities. To detect heterogeneities in surface charge, analytical tools which provide accurate and spatially resolved information about the material surface potential-particularly at microscopic and submicroscopic resolutions-are needed. In this study, atomic force microscopy (AFM) was used to measure the surface interaction forces between a silicon nitride AFM cantilever and a multiphase volcanic rock. The experiments were conducted in electrolyte solutions with different ionic strengths and pH values. The colloidal force measurements were carried out stepwise across the boundary between adjacent phases. At each location, the force-distance curves were recorded. Surface charge densities were then calculated by fitting the experimental data with a DLVO theoretical model. Significant differences between the surface charge densities of the two phases and gradual transitions in the surface charge density at the interface were observed. It is demonstrated that this novel technique can be applied to examine one- and two-dimensional distributions of the surface potential. © 2008 American Chemical Society.

Publication Title