Chemistry 403: Surface Chemistry and Surface Analysis

Course Level: 
Fourth Year
Academic Year: 

Session: Winter

Instructor: Dr. Dan Bizzotto 
Office: AMPEL318 Office Phone: (604) 822–6816
Office Hours: TBA in D224


There are no assigned textbooks for this course, the class notes are complete, but you are expected to use
the following excellent references as they will be very useful in this course.

  • "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) 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: Two for a total of 30%.

  • Problems Sets: Three or four or a total of 15%
  • Active Participation in Tutorial/Problem Set solution sessions: 5%
  • Final Exam: 50%

The mid-term examination dates will be scheduled after consulting the class. Approximately:

  • Midterm 1 - week of Feb 8th;
  • Midterm 2 - week of Mar 7th;

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 CHEM 403. University regulations will be strictly enforced (see

Lecture Schedule

  1. Introduction to Surface Chemistry (2 weeks)
    • L/G, S/L, L/S, S/G interfaces,
    • Surface tension (Liquid/Gas), and its measurement
    • Surface energy,
    • Curved surfaces and Capillarity,
  2. Gibbs Definition of an Interface & Thermodynamics (2 weeks)
    • Thermodynamics of an interface,
    • Gibbs adsorption eqtn and Gibbs excess,
    • surface active molecules in water: micelles, membranes,
    • Langmuir trough, compression isotherms
  3. Solid/Gas, Solid/Liquid Interfaces (4 weeks)
    • Adsorption: physisorption, chemisorption and Heat of adsorption,
    • Adsorption isotherms (Langmuir, Frumkin, BET)
    • spreading/wetting,
    • atomic surface structure,
    • surface reactions,
    • self-assembled monolayers and nanoparticles
  4. Electrochemistry: Thermodynamics & Kinetics (3 weeks)
    • Electrostatics review: Coulomb’s Law, Electric Field, Electrical Potential,
    • Cell Potentials, Equilibrium Constants and the Nernst Eqtn
    • Electron transfer kinetics: Butler-Volmer eqtn,
    • Voltammetry,
    • Fuel Cells
  5. Introduction to Surface Analysis/Characterization Methods (2 weeks)
    • methods: SEM, XPS, AES, SIMS, STM, AFM