Zeta potential analysis in polymer research – Beyond the characterization of surface charge


Surface and interfacial properties of polymeric materials determine their behavior in various fields of applications. Tuning these properties such as roughness, wettability, and functionality, has become increasingly important in the past decades to meet the emerging demands in the areas of energy, environment, or health. The growth in the needs for a detailed characterization of these properties has accompanied the rapid development of traditional polymers with novel surface properties.

We focus on the characterization of the surface functionality and of changes in the surface wettability by means of the zeta potential analysis. The zeta potential represents the charge and the material-water interface. This parameter is extremely sensitive to changes on the outermost material surface and enables the detection of surface modification on the molecular scale. The isoelectric point determined from the pH dependence of the zeta potential is an intrinsic characteristic of the surface chemistry.

The application of the zeta potential analysis for various polymeric materials has been the link between PCCL and Anton Paar for more than 15 years. We review the history of this partnership decorated with specific applications such as the photochemical treatment of polyolefin films or the correlation between the isoelectric point and the antimicrobial behavior of biocidal polymers. We also look at the developments of the state-of-the-art instrument for the surface zeta potential analysis and highlight applications beyond polymers.

With the scientific focus of this webinar, we introduce two recent case studies of polymer applications, “Controlling fiber-matrix adhesion” and “Tailoring the chemical functionalization of a transparent polyethylene foil for its application in an OLED-based DNA biosensor”, with a significant involvement of the zeta potential analysis in the characterization part of these research activities at PCCL.


Inge Mühlbacher is project manager in the division Chemistry of Functional Polymers at Polymer Competence Center Leoben. She received her PhD degree in Physical Chemistry from Karl Franzens University of Graz in 2002. Her expertise lies since more than 20 years in polymer surface characterization with the focus on zeta potential and contact angle measurements, including morphological and chemical analyses, mechanical testing and rheology as well.

Thomas Luxbacher is principal scientist for surface charge and zeta potential at Anton Paar. He was product manager for surface zeta potential analyzers for more than 15 years. Before joining Anton Paar, he gained experience in semiconductor and automotive businesses. He received his MSc and PhD degrees in Physical Chemistry from Graz University of Technology.