Institute of Functional Interfaces

Adhesion of spherical polyelectrolyte brushes on mica: an in situ AFM investigation

  • chair:

    Gliemann, H. / Mei, Y. / Ballauff, M. / Schimmel, Th. (2006)

  • place: Langmuir 22 (2006), 7254-7259

  • Date: 2006
  • Gliemann, H. / Mei, Y. / Ballauff, M. / Schimmel, Th. (2006): „Adhesion of spherical polyelectrolyte brushes on mica: an in situ AFM investigation“. In: Langmuir 22 (2006), 7254-7259


We demonstrate that the adsorption of cationic spherical polyelectrolyte brushes (SPB) on negatively charged mica substrates can be controlled in situ by the ionic strength of the suspension. The SPB used in our experiments consist of colloidal core particles made of polystyrene. Long cationic polyelectrolyte chains are grafted onto these cores that have diameters in the range of 100 nm.

These particles are suspended in aqueous solution with a fixed ionic strength. Atomic force microscopy (AFM) in suspension as well as in air was used for surface characterization. In pure water the polymer particles exhibit a strong adhesion to the mica surface. AFM investigations of the dry samples show that the particles occupy the identical positions as they did in liquid.

They were not removed by the capillary forces within the receding water front during the drying process. The strong interaction between the particles and the mica surface is corroborated by testing the adhesion of individual particles on the dried surface by means of the AFM tip: After a stepwise increase of the force applied to the surface by the AFM tip, the polymer particles still were not removed from the surface, but they were cut through and remained on the substrate. Moreover, in situ AFM measurements showed that particles which adsorb under liquid in a stable manner are easily desorbed from the surface after electrolyte is added to the suspension.

This finding is explained by a decreasing attractive particle-substrate interaction, and the removal of the particles from the surface is due to the significant reduction of the activation barrier of the particle desorption. All findings can be explained in terms of the counterion release force.


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