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A process in which atomic and molecular species residing on the surface of a solid leave the surface and enter the surrounding gas or vacuum. In stimulated desorption studies, species residing on a surface are made to desorb by incident electrons or photons. Measurements of these species provide insight into the ways that radiation affects matter, and are useful analytical probes of surface physics and chemistry. In thermal desorption studies, adsorbed surface species are caused to desorb as the sample is heated under controlled conditions. These measurements can provide information on surface-bond energies, the species present on the surface and their coverage, the order of the desorption process, and the number of bonding states or sites.

Stimulated desorption

Stimulated desorption from surfaces is initiated by electronic excitation of the surface bond by incident electrons or photons. The classical model of desorption is an adaptation of the theory of gas-phase dissociation, in which desorption results from excitation from a bonding state to an antibonding state.

Another model which is more applicable to the phenomenon of ion desorption was first observed in studies of the desorption of positively ionized oxygen (O+) from the surface of titanium(IV) oxide (TiO2). Here it is found that O+ is desorbed not by valence level excitation, but by ionization of the titanium and oxygen core levels. These levels, of course, have little to do with bonding. Furthermore, the fact that the oxygen is desorbed as an O+ ion (whereas it is nominally at O2- on the surface) implies a large (three-electron) charge-transfer preceding desorption. This mechanism for desorption can also be effective for covalently bonded surface species.

Stimulated desorption studies are finding wide use. First, they can show the ways in which radiation affects the structure of solids. This will have important applications in the areas of radiation-induced damage and chemistry. Second, as an analytical tool, they offer a unique new way to study the physics and chemistry of atoms on surfaces which, when combined with the many other surface techniques based largely on electron spectroscopy, can provide new insight. Finally, models of the surface bond are put to a much sterner test in attempting to explain desorption phenomena.

An additional important discovery is that ion angular distributions from stimulated desorption are not isotropic, but show that ions are emitted in relatively narrow cones which project along the nominal ground-state bond directions. Thus this technique provides a direct display of the surface-bonding geometry.

Thermal desorption

Thermal desorption mass spectroscopy is possibly the oldest technique for the study of adsorbates on surfaces. Three primary forms of the thermal desorption experiment involve measurement of (1) the rate of desorption from a surface during controlled heating (temperature-programmed thermal desorption), (2) the rate of desorption at constant temperature (isothermal desorption), and (3) surface lifetimes and diffusion under exposure to a pulsed beam of adsorbates (molecular-beam experiments). Of the three, temperature-programmed thermal desorption is by far the most widely applied. The most straightforward information provided is the nature of the desorbed species from mass analysis, and a determination of the absolute coverage by the adsorbate, which is very difficult to obtain with other techniques. The technique can also provide important kinetic parameters of the desorption process.

While the thermal desorption techniques are among the simplest of surface probes, they remain indispensable because of their directness and the variety of information they convey. Thus while surface science moves to detailed methods involving extremely sophisticated apparatus, the simple thermal desorption methods remain an important part of the overall picture. See Surface physics



the removal of an adsorbed substance from the surface of an adsorbent. Desorption is the reverse of adsorption; it takes place upon a decrease in concentration of the substance being adsorbed in the medium surrounding the adsorbent, as well as upon a rise in temperature.

Desorption is used to extract gases, vapors, or dissolved substances from adsorbents, as well as to regenerate the adsorbent. In practice desorption is effected by blowing hot steam, air, or inert gases through the layer of adsorbent, thereby removing the previously adsorbed substance, or by washing the layer of adsorbent with various reagents that dissolve the adsorbed substance. After desorption the adsorbent is usually dried and cooled. The rate of desorption depends on the temperature, nature, and flow rate of the desorbing gas or solvent, as well as on characteristics of the adsorbent’s structure. Desorption is one of the obligatory cycles of adsorption in periodic-action equipment. In adsorbers with a moving adsorption layer, desorption proceeds continuously.


Kasatkin, A. G. Osnovnye protsessy i apparaty khimicheskoi tekhnologii, 8th ed. Moscow, 1971.


(physical chemistry)
The process of removing a sorbed substance by the reverse of adsorption or absorption.
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