Factors that impact the QCM baseline stability and how to address them
Malin Edvardsson Jun 18, ’24 ~ 6 min

Factors that impact the QCM baseline stability and how to address them

QCM-D is a highly sensitive instrument, and many factors can influence the stability of its measured signals. In this post, we discuss the critical aspects of achieving a stable QCM baseline and offer guidance to help you troubleshoot common issues.

Baseline stability is essential for reliable QCM measurements

Achieving high-quality data analysis with QCM-D starts with a solid baseline. The baseline must not be too short, and it must be stable, this is vital for drawing meaningful conclusions from QCM-D experiments. The level of stability required depends on the specific measurements being conducted, however. For experiments with expected large shifts in the f and D signals, less stringent baseline stability may be acceptable. However, experiments requiring the detection of small frequency and dissipation shifts require a more stable baseline. For example, when measuring an inert surface in water at room temperature, aim for a frequency drift of less than 1 Hz/h and a dissipation drift of less than 0.15∙10⁻⁶/h.

Managing physical factors that affect the baseline stability

All baseline drift typically stems from physical processes affecting f and D. To maintain baseline stability, it is crucial to eliminate factors causing unwanted and uncontrolled changes in the measured parameters, ensuring that only the desired processes are reflected in the measured signals. A robust instrument setup with effective temperature control is key. Additionally, experimental conditions can impact the baseline. By recognizing and managing these conditions, unwanted drift can be minimized. Key factors to monitor include:

  • Air bubbles: Ensure that the system is free from air bubbles. If a liquid that is not properly degassed is used, bubbles may form on the surface of the sensor and influence both f and D.
  • Temperature changes: Maintain consistent temperature throughout the measurement. The QCM response is very sensitive to temperature changes
  • Unanticipated surface reactions: Avoid reactions that could alter surface properties unexpectedly. The QCM-D is designed to measure surface reactions. However, sometimes there are reactions taking place that you may not anticipate.
  • Mounting stresses: Ensure proper mounting of sensors without introducing stress. Most physical stresses on the sensor influence all resonant frequencies and dissipation factors even if the effects are usually more pronounced in the fundamental mode than in the overtones
  • Solvent leaks: Check for and prevent any solvent leaks. If a tube is leaking, the sensor is not mounted properly, or if the sensor is cracked, liquid can enter spaces in the measurement chamber where it should not be. For example, if the backside of the sensor becomes exposed to only small amounts of liquid or vapor, large changes in f and D may occur.
  • O-Ring swelling: Monitor for integrity and swelling of O-rings. When changing from working in one solvent to another, the O-ring might swell/shrink due to the changed properties of the liquid.
  • Pressure changes: Stabilize the pressure within the measurement environment.
  • Backside reactions: Prevent any reactions occurring on the backside of the sensor. The backside of the sensor is as sensitive to surface reactions as the front side. If, for example, there is a large change in humidity on the backside of the sensor due to leaks or a large change in temperature, the amount of adsorbed water will change and thereby influence f and D
  • Bad electrical contact: Ensure secure and reliable electrical connections. If there is bad electrical contact between the sensor and the gold contact wires, the measured dissipation factor will increase and could affect noise and drift.

All these factors can induce measurable changes in the f and D responses, potentially distorting the intended measurement of physical processes. Achieving a stable baseline before starting your measurements provides a reliable reference point for analyzing the subsequent f and D shifts.

Concluding Remarks

Establishing a stable QCM-D baseline is fundamental for accurate data analysis and meaningful insights. The quality of your baseline directly influences the reliability of your results, making it crucial to address factors that impact baseline stability. Key considerations include maintaining consistent experimental conditions and controlling physical variables such as, for example, temperature fluctuations, and air bubbles.

Download the guide below to read more about how each of these factors affects the baseline and how to address them if you experience a drifting baseline.


Baseline stability

Read about what factors that affect the baseline stability and how to manage them

Guide  How to optimize the QCM-D baseline stability  Download

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