Journal article Open Access
Baumgartner, Bettina; Hayden, Jakob; Schwaighofer, Andreas; Lendl, Bernhard
Adsorption of molecules on high-surface-area materials is a fundamental process critical to many fields of basic and applied chemical research; for instance, it is among the simplest and most efficient principles for separating and remediating polluted water. However, established experimental approaches for investigating this fundamental process preclude in situ monitoring and thus obtaining real-time information about the ongoing processes. In this work, mid-infrared attenuated total reflection (ATR) spectroscopy is introduced as a powerful technique for quantitative in situ monitoring of adsorption processes and thus enrichment of traces of organic pollutants from aqueous solution in ordered mesoporous silica films. The synthesis, functionalization, and characterization of two silica films with 3D hexagonal and cubic pore structure on silicon ATR crystals are presented. Benzonitrile and valeronitrile as model compounds for aromatic and aliphatic water pollutants are enriched in hydrophobic films, while the matrix, water, is excluded from the volume probed by the evanescent field. Enrichment times of <5 s are observed during in situ measurements of benzonitrile adsorbing onto the film from aqueous solution. The sensing system is calibrated using the Freundlich adsorption equation as a calibration function. Enrichment factors of benzonitrile and valeronitrile within the film were determined to be >200 and >100, respectively, yielding detection limits in the low ppm range. Furthermore, fast and complete desorption of the analyte, ensuring reliable regeneration of the sensor, was verified. Lastly, we derive and experimentally validate equations for ATR spectroscopy with thin film adsorption layers to quantify the absolute mass of adsorbed pollutant in the film. The excellent agreement between recorded absorptions at target wavenumbers of the target analytes and corresponding simulations corroborates the validity of the chosen approach.