Chemistry 403: Introduction to Surface Chemistry and Surface Analysis

Course Level: 
Fourth Year
Academic Year: 


There are no assigned textbooks for this course since the class notes are very complete. A number of very useful references a list below for those who wish to read more or need further background information.

“Insoluble monolayers at liquid-gas interfaces” by G. Gaines
“Physical chemistry of surfaces” by Arthur W. Adamson.
“Instrumental Analysis” by Skoog et al (from Chem 311)
“Physical Chemistry” by Levine (from 2nd year Chem)

Course Description

Chem 403 is an introduction to surface chemistry ideas and concepts which build upon the basis of thermodynamics already learned. The content is described in the course outline and after successfully completing this course you will be able to:

  • incorporate surface specific phenomena into any thermodynamic analysis
  • use surface energy concepts to understand/explain capillarity, wetting, Langmuir trough, self assembly, surfactant action
  • understand and use the basic models of an interface to determine adsorbate surface excess and estimate orientation
  • understand and use adsorption isotherms (eg Langmuir, Frumkin, etc.) for adsorption onto solid surfaces
  • develop an understanding of heterogeneous catalysis and some simple models
  • understand/describe the fundamentals behind the operation of surface analytical tools (AFM, STM, Auger, XPS, SIMS) and the limitation of each method
  • understand the principles behind the electron transfer reaction and the model describing the effect of potential on the rate of electron transfer (eg: Butler-Volmer, etc.)
  • use the Butler-Volmer equation to analyze current-voltage data
  • apply theoretical understanding to describe the operation of a hydrogen/oxygen PEM fuel cell
  • general understanding of the potentials/limitations of fuel cell technology


Mid-term exams: Three for a total of 45%.
Active Participation in Tutorial/Problem Set sessions: 5%
Final Exam: 50%
The mid-term examination dates will be scheduled after consulting the class. Approximately: Midterm 1 - Jan 20th or 23rd;
Midterm 2 - Feb 13th or 15th;
Midterm 3 - TBA.

The final examination is scheduled by the registrar. The examination period for this term is given in the UBC Calendar. DO NOT BOOK TRAVEL RESERVATIONS UNTIL THE EXAMINATION TIMETABLE FOR THE CURRENT TERM IS FINALIZED. No changes in exam dates will be made to accommodate travel plans. During the writing of all examinations in CHEM403, the following University regulations will be strictly enforced:  "Candidates guilty of any of the following, or similar, dishonest practices shall be liable to disciplinary action: a. Making use of any book, papers, preprogrammed information in calculators, or memoranda other than those authorized by the examiners. b. Speaking or communicating with other candidates. c. Purposely exposing written papers to the view of other candidates. The plea of accident or forgetfulness shall not be received."

Identification (AMS card) is required at examinations.

Lecture Schedule

1. Introduction to Surface Chemistry (2 weeks) L/G, S/L, L/S, S/G interfaces, Surface tension (Liquid/Gas), Surface energy, Curved surfaces, Capillarity, Surface tension measurement

2. Gibbs Definition of an Interface & Thermodynamics (2 weeks) Thermodynamics of an interface, Gibbs adsorption eqtn, Gibbs excess, surface active molecules in water: micelles, membranes, Langmuir trough, compression isotherms

3. Introduction to Surface Analysis/Characterization Methods (2 weeks) methods to be described: SEM, XPS, AES, SIMS. (IARL tour Jan 23rd or 25th)

4. Solid/Gas, Solid/Liquid Interfaces (3 weeks) Adsorption, physisorption, chemisorption, Langmuir adsorption isotherm, BET, Heat of adsorption, spreading/wetting, atomic surface structure, surface reactions, self-assembled monolayers, nanoparticles

5. Electrochemical Cells & Kinetics (3 weeks) Electrostatics review, Coulomb’s Law, Electric Field, Potential, Equilibrium Constants, Cell Potentials, Electron transfer kinetics, Butler-Volmer Kinetics, Voltammetry, Fuel Cells

6. Surface Analysis/Characterization II (1 week) possible methods to be discussed, time permitting include: STM, AFM