Careful preparation to see the unknown!
After 10 years of flight Rosetta reached Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Great pictures of the unknown reached us and more are following including analysis of the material itself. What effort, precision and time has been spent to obtain this unique insights! (Note: original and best picture by ESA (link) has restrictions, shown is a simulation (link).
Do we know our surfaces?
When I saw the original wonderful picture of the comet I had a strange association: we are amazed to see the surface of this comet out in space but we are reluctant that here on earth many surfaces in chemical applications remain rather unknown. One example: new soil release polymers are developed to enhance the removal of stains during washing. Yes, chemically the composition of these new molecules is known. Yes, it is also tested how well stains are removed. Is this enough to guide the researchers for really innovative products?
The value of better insights
How would it be if the researcher would know if and how these new soil release polymers adsorb on the fibres? Is there a monolayer? Is the distribution uniform? Does it penetrate into the thread or not? How is the cause and effect of modifications?
And there are many more examples: dispersing agents on pigments and fillers, corrosion inhibitors, cleaning agents, flotation in mining and so on...
Surface analysis is possible!
I know, analysis of the surface is not easy and sometimes maybe even a waste of time (and money). But compared to Rosetta’s mission, todays surface analysis is much more easy – and probably much easier than you think.
For example 2D images of chemical composition of the first few nm of surfaces can be obtained by advanced time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectroscopy (ToF-SIMS). The scanning mode provides lateral resolutions up to 200 nm! And depth profiles might be taken, too. X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS), also known as ESCA (electron spectroscopy for chemical analysis) is best suited for quantitative results. And there are more tools available...
Overcome trial and error
It is my passion to find the best tools for surface analysis and facilitate real understanding - to supplement application tests and overcome trial and error. And sometimes even a smart, colored SEM picture explains just what you want say to your customer or your management.
Enjoy Rosetta’s mission and your own insights!