Understanding the Importance of Surface Analysis

Analyzing how the surface of a material will behave is very important as surfaces of various materials are totally interwoven into many aspects of our daily lives. Based on the behavior of the surface, different materials can be used for different applications and products. So it is important to have detailed information about material surfaces. This information can be gathered using the technique of surface analysis.

In order to understand the properties and reactivity of any surface it is necessary to understand its physical topography, chemical composition, atomic and chemical structure, the electronic state, and the manner in which the surface molecules bond with each other. Different methods of surface analysis have been developed to analyze and understand these different characteristics of surfaces.

While it is not necessary to understand all of these characteristics for individual applications, having a basic idea about them always helps improve the quality of products and applications. In order to get specific information about the surface, it is necessary to somehow interfere with its state in some manner. This could be in the form of bombarding the surface with electrons, photons or ions.

While the bombardment is not significant, it does have an effect on the physical and chemical properties of the surface. However, by controlling the environment in which this bombardment is carried out, it is possible to control the changes that take place in the surface. This environment is best created through the use of modern analysis devices known as surface analyzers. Another name given to these analyzers is profilometers as they help create a complete profile of the surface of any material.

There are many different types of surface analyzers available in the market. Using different surface analysis techniques, these analyzers help in the detailing and analyses of different characteristics of material surfaces. While there are as many as 50 different surface analysis techniques currently in existence, the major methods include:

  • Auger Electron Spectroscopy
  • Atomic Force Microscopy
  • Auger Photoelectron Coincidence Spectroscopy
  • Appearance Potential Spectroscopy
  • Angle Resolved Spectroscopy
  • Attenuated Total Reflection
  • Chemical Force Microscopy
  • Disappearance Potential Spectroscopy
  • Energy Dispersive X-ray Analysis
  • Electron Energy Loss Spectroscopy
  • Electron Probe Micro-analysis
  • Field Emission and Field Ion Microscopy and
  • High Energy Ion Scattering

Most surface analyzers and profilometers are based on one of these major techniques.

Majority of surface analyzers consist of a stylus that has a sensor at its tip. This sensor picks up surface irregularities and characteristics and converts these into user readable format. In the simplest of terms, a surface analyzer is a device that determines the characteristics of a surface by analyzing and amplifying the voltage changes that take place when a sensitized stylus is moved over it. The voltage generated from such movement is fed into an indicator that magnifies it up to 50,000 times to create a precise and detailed map of the surface under analysis.

As new industrial applications have been discovered that require surface analysis, the complexity and effectiveness of surface analyzers has also undergone many changes and developments. Today, surface analyzers are used in almost every major industrial and manufacturing process including nanotechnology, biotechnology, polymers, paints, metal coating, cements, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, aerosols, pigments, and plastics, to name a few.

Only through in-depth analysis of the chemical and atomic composition of material surfaces, manufacturers are better able to determine the quality and effectiveness of the end product. So the above techniques and devices play invaluable roles in providing us with the high quality products that we use in our day-to-day lives today.