Amongst the list of the measurands specific to nanoparticles, size and shape definitely matter but surface chemistry is also often cited. While it is now largely recognized that surface composition, structure and reactivity are perhaps the dominant parameters controlling properties of nanoparticles, surface chemistry is one of the key characteristics of nanoparticles which is seldom or inappropriately evaluated, as it has been identified by international organizations (such as ISO, BIPM or CEN). The usual techniques for surface analysis of materials often require ultra-high vacuum (UHV) conditions and are hardly applicable to nanoparticles. Moreover, because the surface chemical composition and reactivity are dependent on the environmental conditions, the results obtained under UHV cannot be extrapolated to nanoparticles in ambient atmosphere or dispersed in liquids.
After an analysis of the stakes and challenges in the surface characterization of nanoparticles and a very brief overview of the usual techniques for surface studies, this paper presents the performance of Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy to investigate surface chemical composition, surface reactivity and surface functionalization of nanoparticles. As illustrating examples, the results of the FTIR surface analysis of different kinds of ceramic nanoparticles are discussed with regard to several fields of applications.