ATR-FTIR spectroscopy as a tool to probe surface adsorption on nanoparticles at the liquid–solid interface in environmentally and biologically relevant media
Given the importance of nanoparticle surface composition in nanotoxicology, analytical tools that can probe nanoparticle surfaces in aqueous media are crucial but remain limited. Attenuated total reflectance Fourier transform infrared (ATR-FTIR) spectroscopy is a technique capable of in situ characterization of the liquid–solid interface to probe surface adsorption on nanoparticle surfaces in environmentally and biologically relevant media. Furthermore, given that the interfacial region in these media is dynamic, ATR-FTIR spectroscopy facilitates monitoring these dynamics by interrogating a layer of immobilized nanoparticles coated on the ATR element while changing the overlying aqueous phase. The molecular information acquired from this technique allows for the determination of the adsorption mode, including conformational and structural changes of the coordinating ligand, and can directly measure ligand displacement reactions. Furthermore, in some cases, ATR-FTIR spectroscopy can be used as a quantitative surface analytical tool. In this article, we briefly review the fundamentals of the technique and then provide several examples of using ATR-FTIR spectroscopy to probe nanoparticle surfaces in general with respect to: (i) the adsorption of different environmentally and biologically relevant coordinating ligands; (ii) competitive ligand adsorption and; (iii) the determination of kinetic and thermodynamic parameters. We have also investigated surface adsorption of TiO2 nanoparticles in different biological media typically used for toxicity studies and show that the surface composition of TiO2 nanoparticles depends to a large extent on the composition of the medium due to surface adsorption. This result has important implications for the interpretation of toxicity data as well as inter-comparisons between toxicity studies.