Over the last 40 years we have witnessed an impressive development of the tools for the analysis of polymer surfaces. However, there still are questions, which are very challenging and the quest of answering these questions means working at the frontier of current science. We discuss some general features of the surfaces of synthetic polymeric materials and the new features formed in surface treatments. It is extremely difficult and in many cases virtually impossible to determine the concentration of all the chemical species present in such complex materials. The determination of their vertical distribution, i.e. the depth profile of these concentrations, is even more complicated. A new situation has arose since more and more surface functionalization techniques have gone from the laboratory to the production line. Microarrays are a good example. The quality control of the production is a challenging and sometimes expensive task.
The combination of surface chemical reactions with instrumental techniques has been proven to be a valuable tool for surface analysis. After discussing some recent progress in that field we present examples that demonstrate a continuous progress in that field. The fluorescence dye Fluram can be used to determine the concentration of NH2 groups at a surface and their local density. Nitric oxide can be used to determine radicals in polymer surfaces, also in the presence of oxygen. The trifluoroacetic anhydride (TFAA) derivatization of hydroxyl groups provides reliable data. The diffusion of fluoresceine isothiocyanate (FITC) labelled globuline was used to characterize the network density of surface coupled hydrogels. Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.