Effects of surface oxidation on the pH-dependent surface charge of oxidized aluminum gallium nitride

J Colloid Interface Sci. 2021 Dec:603:604-614. doi: 10.1016/j.jcis.2021.06.126. Epub 2021 Jun 24.


Hypothesis: The properties of the oxidized surface for common materials, such as silicon and titanium, are known to be markedly different from the reduced surface. We hypothesize that surface-oxidized aluminum gallium nitride ((oxidized-AlGaN)/GaN) surface charge behavior is different to unoxidized AlGaN (with ultrathin native oxide only), which can be validated via surfactant adsorption. Understanding these differences will explain why (oxidized-AlGaN)/GaN-based sensors are better performing than AlGaN ones, which has been previously demonstrated but not understood.

Experiments: The surface of an AlGaN/GaN structure was oxidized with hot piranha solution and oxygen plasma. AFM force measurements and imaging were performed to probe the charge properties of the surface in aqueous solutions of varying pH containing only an acid or base, or with an added ionic surfactant: cationic cetyltrimethylammonium bromide (CTAB) or anionic sodium dodecylsulfate (SDS).

Findings: The (oxidized-AlGaN)/GaN surface is positively charged at pH 4 and pH 5.5, although pH 5.5 should be close to the isoelectric point of the surface. The surface is negatively charged at pH 10 and pH 12, and sufficiently charged to attract cooperative adsorption of CTAB aggregates at pH 12. At pH 2, the evidence is inconclusive, but the surface is most likely positively charged. Compared to unoxidized AlGaN, the (oxidized-AlGaN)/GaN surface shows a wider range of surface charge magnitude over pH values between 2 and 12. This suggests that the (oxidized-AlGaN)/GaN surface has a higher surface hydroxyl group density than unoxidized AlGaN, which explains the higher sensitivity for pH sensors based on (oxidized-AlGaN)/GaN structures.

Keywords: AFM; Adsorption; AlGaN; CTAB; GaN; Oxidation; SDS; Solid/liquid interface; Surface charge; Surfactant.

MeSH terms

  • Aluminum Compounds
  • Gallium*
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Sodium Dodecyl Sulfate


  • Aluminum Compounds
  • aluminum gallium nitride
  • Sodium Dodecyl Sulfate
  • Gallium