Vibrational Sum-Frequency Spectroscopy: Towards understanding adsorbate behaviour on substrates relevant to the nuclear fuel cycle

  • Francis Lydiatt

Student thesis: Phd


The primary goal of this thesis was to commission an instrument for vibrational sum frequency spectroscopy (VSFS), and exploit it for the study of solid/gas interfaces; of ultimate interest is characterisation of substrate surfaces in humid environments. Such effort is motivated by interest in understanding the potential for atmospheric corrosion in dry storage facilities of spent nuclear fuels or other nuclear-related wastes.VSFS is a non-linear, interface specific, vibrational spectroscopy, in which two photons of different energies (infrared (IR) and visible (VIS)) impinge upon a surface at the same point at the same time, leading to the generation of a third (sum-frequency generation (SFG)) photon. Features in VSFS spectra can be assigned to vibrational modes of interfacial species, and so enable details of interfacial structure and chemistry to be elucidated. An instrument for such measurements has been developed using laser facilitates located in the Photon Science Institute (PSI) of The University of Manchester. More specifically, an ultra-fast (femtosecond) laser has been employed as a light source, enabling acquisition of spectra (~250 cm-1 in width at a resolution of ~11 cm-1) without the need for scanning the energy of either IR or VIS beams, i.e. so called broad-band VSFS. To test performance, data have been acquired from self-assembled monolayers of alkanethiols (octadecanethiol) on gold substrates, which demonstrate the utility of the instrument.Subsequent to commissioning, the VSFS instrument was initially exploited to study the interaction of two organic molecules, acetonitrile and acetic acid, with a single crystal TiO2(110) substrate; measurements were performed with the sample exposed to the vapour of each organic species under ambient conditions. Surface adsorption was identified through the appearance of the CH3 symmetric stretch. Furthermore, spectra as a function of light (IR/VIS/SFG) polarization combinations have been recorded to explore adsorbate angular geometry. Finally, VSFS measurements have been undertaken from a number of substrates (GaAs, Au, Zn, Fe, Cr, stainless steel), as a function of relative humidity; D2O was employed to overcome the issue of loss of IR beam intensity due to interaction with atmospheric H2O. Signal quality varies significantly with substrate, with the most insight being gained for the interaction of D2O with polycrystalline Zn. Clear vibrational resonances due to both hydroxyls (OD) and molecular water (D2O) are observed, which vary with relative humidity, indicating that there are significant changes in interface structure with relative humidity.
Date of Award31 Dec 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorRob Lindsay (Supervisor)


  • lasers
  • acetontrile
  • H2O
  • TiO2
  • corrosion
  • nuclear
  • vibrational sum frequency spectroscopy
  • water
  • nonlinear optics
  • spectroscopy
  • VSFS
  • spent nuclear fuel

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