The phase-boundary potential model

Eric Bakker, Philippe Bühlmann, Ernö Pretsch

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

157 Scopus citations


The response of ion-selective electrodes (ISEs) can be described on the basis of two different theoretical approaches. On one hand, the phase-boundary model is based on the assumption of local equilibria at the aqueous/organic interface. The phase-boundary model allows the description of all practically relevant cases of steady state and even transient responses with sufficient accuracy. Moreover, it has the advantage of relating simple thermodynamic parameters to the response function of the electrodes and hence allowing an intuitive interpretation of many observed facts. On the other hand, the comprehensive but quite involved dynamic model requires knowledge of mobilities and ion transfer rate constants. It has never been applied to ionophore-based electrodes in its full complexity. Both models were first suggested decades ago but have been recently extended to explain so far poorly understood aspects of ionophore-based ISEs. Due to space restrictions, only the most important original references are given in this paper, which summarizes the major assumptions of the phase-boundary potential model and discusses the usefulness and limits of this approach. Recent applications are discussed towards understanding sensor selectivity, upper and lower detection limits (even when concentration polarizations are relevant), the so-called sandwich membrane method to determine thermodynamic parameters, apparently non-Nernstian responses, potential drifts with solid contact electrodes, polyion sensors, and galvanostatically controlled ion sensors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3-20
Number of pages18
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 10 2004

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors are thankful for financial support by the National Institutes of Health (Grant EB0002189), The Petroleum Research Fund (administered by the American Chemical Society), The Swiss National Science Foundation, and Grant-in-Aid from the Graduate School of the University of Minnesota.


  • Ion-selective electrodes
  • Ionophore-based ISEs
  • Phase-boundary potential


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