Surface composition and electrical and electrochemical properties of freshly deposited and acid-etched indium tin oxide electrodes

Michael Brumbach, P. Alex Veneman, F. Saneeha Matrikar, Thomas Schulmeyer, Adam Simmonds, Wei Xia, Paul Lee, Neal R. Armstrong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

99 Scopus citations


We compare the near-surface composition and electroactivity of commercial indium tin oxide (ITO) thin films, activated by plasma cleaning or etching with strong haloacids, with ITO films that have been freshly deposited in high vacuum, before and after exposure to the atmosphere or water vapor. Conductive-tip AFM, X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS), and the electrochemistry of probe molecules in solution were used to compare the relative degrees of electroactivity and the near-surface composition of these materials. Brief etching of commercial ITO samples with concentrated HCl or HI significantly enhances the electrical activity of these oxides as revealed by C-AFM. XPS was used to compare the composition of these activated surfaces, focusing on the intrinsically asymmetric O 1 s line shape. Energy-loss processes associated with photoemission from the tin-doped, oxygen-deficient oxides complicate the interpretation of the O Is spectra. O Is spectra from the stoichiometric indium oxide lattice are accompanied by higher-binding-energy peaks associated with hydroxylated forms of the oxide (and in some cases carbonaceous impurities) and overlapping photoemission associated with energy-loss processes. Characterization of freshly sputter-deposited indium oxide (10) and ITO films, transferred under high vacuum to the surface analysis environment, allowed us to differentiate the contributions of tin doping and oxygen-vacancy doping to the O Is line shape, relative to higher-binding-energy O 1 s components associated with hydroxyl species and carbonaceous impurities. Using these approaches, we determined that acid activation and O 2 plasma etching create an ITO surface that is still covered with an average of one to two monolayers of hydroxide. Both of these activation treatments lead to significantly higher rates of electron transfer to solution probe molecules, such as dimethyferrocene in acetonitrile. Solution electron-transfer events appear to occur at no more than 4 × 10 7 electroactive sites per cm 2 (each with diameters of ca. 50-200 nm) (i.e., a small fraction of the geometric area of the electrode). Electron-transfer rates correlate with the near-surface tin dopant concentration, suggesting that these electroactive sites arise from near-surface tin enrichment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11089-11099
Number of pages11
Issue number22
StatePublished - Oct 23 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Materials Science(all)
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Surfaces and Interfaces
  • Spectroscopy
  • Electrochemistry


Dive into the research topics of 'Surface composition and electrical and electrochemical properties of freshly deposited and acid-etched indium tin oxide electrodes'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this