Interfacial forces at layered surfaces: substrate electrical double-layer forces acting through ultrathin polymer coatings

Hongfang Wang, Drew Evans, Nicolas H. Voelcker, Hans J. Griesser, Laurence Meagher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Manipulating the surface properties of materials via the application of coatings is a widely used strategy to achieve desired interfacial interactions, implicitly assuming that the interfacial forces of coated samples are determined exclusively by the surface properties of the coatings. However, interfacial interactions between materials and their environments operate over finite length scales. Thus, the question addressed in this study is whether interactions associated with bulk substrate materials could act through thin coatings or, conversely, how thick a coating needs to be to completely screen subsurface forces contributed by underlying substrates. Plasma polymer layers were deposited on silicon wafer substrates from ethanol vapor, with identical chemical composition, ultrasmooth surfaces, and varying thicknesses. Using colloid-probe atomic force microscopy, electrical double-layer forces were determined in solutions of various ionic strengths and fitted using the Derjaguin-Landau-Verwey-Overbeek theory. For the thicker ethanol plasma polymers, the fitted surface potentials reflected the presence of surface carboxylate groups and were invariant with thickness. In contrast, for coatings <18 nm thick, the surface potentials increased steadily with decreasing film thickness; the measured electrical double-layer forces contained contributions from both the coating and the substrate. Theoretical calculations were in agreement with this model. Thus, our observations indicate that the higher surface potential of the underlying SiO2 surface can influence the interactions between a colloid particle and the multilayer structure if coatings are sufficiently thin. Such superposition needs to be factored into the design of coatings aimed at the control of material interactions via surface forces.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11679-11689
Number of pages11
Issue number36
Publication statusPublished - 10 Sep 2019

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