Octadecanethiol Monolayer on Silver

Procedure developed by George Lisensky based on the Tollens' Test and the well-known self-assembly of thiol monolayers (SAM) on gold surfaces.

The aldehyde group in glucose, , reduces Ag(NH3)2+ to Ag metal. The fresh silver is then coated with a self-assembled monolayer of octadecanethiol, , making a non-polar surface on which water beads up.


Wear eye protection
Chemical gloves recommended

Place a clean microscope slide in a Petri dish.
Place 4 large drops of a 0.5 M glucose solution on the microscope slide.
Add 12 large drops of an active silver ion solution.
Gently agitate to mix the solution. Wait several minutes while the solution darkens and a grayish precipitate forms.

A silver mirror is also forming on the slide, though it may be obscured by the precipitate. Use water from a wash bottle to wash off the precipitate and reveal the silver mirror. Avoid contact with the solution since it will stain your hands. Discard the solution by rinsing with water and remove the slide from the Petri dish.

Wait for the surface to appear dry. (For faster drying use a hair dryer but try not to overheat the sample while preparing a clean non-oxidized silver surface.)

Cover only part of the silver with a few drops of a long chain alkanethiol solution in ethanol. One way to do this is to rest the slide at an angle. Allow the ethanol to evaporate at room temperature (no hair dryer), leaving behind an alkanethiol monolayer with the sulfur atoms bound to the silver and the hydrocarbon tails pointing away. This effectively coats the surface with a monolayer of hydrocarbons.


Add small equal size drops of water (5 µL recommended) to the surfaces. How attracted are the water drops to the monolayer coated surface? To the silver surface? To the glass? Do water drops spread out or bead up?
Like attracts like. Is the water attracted more to the plain glass, to the silver, or to the alkanethiol monolayer-coated silver? The contact angle is between the side of a drop and the bottom of the drop. Is the contact angle wide (small attraction to the surface) or narrow (large attraction to the surface) for each surface? Make an accurate sketch or preferably take a photo for your notebook so you can measure the angle.

Use a single edge razor blade to scrape off some of the silver and make a sharp transition between surfaces. What happens if you drag a drop of water from the coated surface to the glass (left)? Can you make a virtual wall by running water down the glass to the thiol-coated silver (right)?

1. Estimate the contact angle for a 5 µL water drop on each surface.
2. Classify the glass, the silver, and the alkanethiol coated surface as like or unlike the probe.
3. What happens if you drag a drop of water from the coated surface to the glass? Can you make a virtual wall by running water down the glass to the thiol-coated silver?

Materials for 25 students
  • 0.8 M KOH (Dissolve 0.22 g KOH in 5 mL of water.)
  • 0.1 M silver nitrate (Dissolve 0.17 g AgNO3 in 10 mL of water.)
  • 15 M ammonia (Concentrated aqueous ammonium hydroxide.)
  • 0.5 M glucose or dextrose (Dissolve 0.90 g in 10 mL of water. Dispense from a dropper bottle.) Sugar or sucrose does not work.
  • Alkanethiol solution. Add a very small amount (just barely visible) of a long-chain alkanethiol, such as octadecanethiol, to 20 mL of absolute ethanol. Dispense from a dropper bottle.
  • Active silver ion solution, Ag(NH3)2+
  • Add concentrated ammonium hydroxide dropwise to 10 mL of 0.1 M silver nitrate solution until the initial precipitate just dissolves. Mix with a glass stir rod. Add 5 mL of 0.8 M KOH solution; a dark precipitate will form. Add more ammonium hydroxide dropwise until the precipitate just redissolves. This "active silver" solution should be used within an hour of preparation. Dispense from a dropper bottle. To avoid the formation of explosive silver nitride, discard any remaining active solution by washing down the drain with plenty of water.

  • Petri dish
  • Microscope slide (75 x 25 x 1 mm)
  • Dropping bottles
  • Wash bottle (water)
  • Hair dryer (recommended)
  • 5 µL pipet (recommended)
  • single edge razor blade (optional)

  • Developed in collaboration with the
    University of Wisconsin Materials Research Science and Engineering Center
    Interdisciplinary Education Group   |   MRSEC on Nanostructured Interfaces
    This page created by George Lisensky, Beloit College.  Last modified January 31, 2017 .