More than a Liquid Junction: Effect of Stirring, Flow Rate, and Inward and Outward Electrolyte Diffusion on Reference Electrodes with Salt Bridges Contained in Nanoporous Glass

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Abstract

The Henderson equation is usually used to calculate liquid-junction potentials between miscible electrolyte solutions. However, the potentials of reference electrodes that comprise an electrolyte-filled nanoporous glass frit may also be affected by charge screening. As reported previously, when the Debye length approaches or surpasses the glass pore diameter, reference potentials depend on the composition of the bridge electrolyte, the pore size of the frit, and the concentration of electrolyte in the sample. We report here that stirring of samples may alter the reference potential as it affects the electrolyte concentration in the section of the nanoporous glass frit that is facing the sample solution. When the flow rate of bridge electrolyte into the sample is small, convective mass transport of sample into the nanoporous frit occurs. The depth of penetration into the frit is only a few nanometers but, despite the use of concentrated salt bridges, this is enough to affect the extent of electrostatic screening when samples of low ionic strength are measured. Mixing of sample and salt bridge solutions - and in particular penetration of sample components into the frit - was optically monitored by observation of a deeply colored Fe[(SCN)(H2O)5]2+ complex that formed in situ exclusively in the region where the sample and salt bridge mixed. Importantly, because flow through nanoporous frits is very slow, mass transport through these frits is dominated by diffusion. Consequently, over as little as 1 h, reference electrode frits with low flow rates become contaminated with sample components and undergo depletion of electrolyte within the frit to a depth of several millimeters, which can negatively affect subsequent experiments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalAnalytical chemistry
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019

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