We show the theoretical and experimental combination of acoustic and optical methods for the in situ quantitative evaluation of the density, the viscosity, and the thickness of soft layers adsorbed on chemically tailored metal surfaces. For the highest sensitivity and an operation in liquids, a Love mode surface acoustic wave (SAW) sensor with a hydrophobized gold-coated sensing area is the acoustic method, while surface plasmon resonance (SPR) on the same gold surface as the optical method is monitored simultaneously in a single setup for the real-time and label-free measurement of the parameters of adsorbed soft layers, which means for layers with a predominant viscous behavior. A general mathematical modeling in equivalent viscoelastic transmission lines is presented to determine the correlation between experimental SAW signal shifts and the waveguide structure including the presence of the adsorbed layer and the supporting liquid from which it segregates. A methodology is presented to identify from SAW and SPR simulations the parameters representatives of the soft layer. During the absorption of a soft layer, thickness or viscosity changes are observed in the experimental ratio of the SAW signal attenuation to the SAW signal phase and are correlated with the theoretical model. As application example, the simulation method is applied to study the thermal behavior of physisorbed PNIPAAm, a polymer whose conformation is sensitive to temperature, under a cycling variation of temperature between 20 and 40 degrees C. Under the assumption of the bulk density and the bulk refractive index of PNIPAAm, thickness and viscosity of the film are obtained from simulations; the viscosity is correlated to the solvent content of the physisorbed layer.
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