The surface of a material interacts with its environment. Therefore, the surrounding medium normally induces a considerable change in the nature of the interface, either unintentionally (e.g. via contamination) or intentionally due to physical or chemical modification processes. Surface modification based on rational, well defined synthetic steps has become a key competence in many fields of science and technology.
In contrast to mineral or crystal structures, organic matter present on a surface is characterized by a more pronounced dynamic behaviour, even under ambient conditions. Neither life nor modern polymer and supramolecular technology would be possible without the possibility of carbon based chemical entities to adapt themselves dynamically to changing physical interaction forces with the environment. Equilibrium configuration of organic surface groups is optimized and driven by (macroscopic) thermodynamic laws. Therefore, the nature of forces acting across interfaces represents the basic principle that allows the fabrication of surfaces with application optimized (tailor made) performance.
The group for organic surface technology at Empa focuses its activities around the understanding and development of modification processes of organic matter on surfaces.
In order to obtain optimized material-to-environment compatibility in e.g. adhesion, functionalization, biomaterials and biorecognition applications, it is necessary to control process parameters as well as the possibility to get surface analytical information.
This approach requires thin film technology, supramolecular chemistry and hybrid material processing as well as the application of surface analytical instrumentation like time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry (TOF-SIMS), micro-Raman spectrometry, contact angle and surface energy measurements for interface characterization.