Specific surface area

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Scratches, represented by triangular shaped grooves, make the surface area greater

Specific surface area "SSA" is a property of solids which is the total surface area of a material per unit of mass,[1] solid or bulk volume,[2] or cross-sectional area

It is a derived scientific value that can be used to determine the type and properties of a material (e.g. soil, snow). It is defined either by surface area divided by mass (with units of m²/kg), or surface area divided by the volume (units of m²/m³ or m−1)

It has a particular importance for adsorption, heterogeneous catalysis, and reactions on surfaces.


The value obtained for specific surface area depends upon the method of measurement. Several techniques have been developed to measure the specific surface area of clays, including methylene blue (MB) stain test, ethylene glycol monoethyl ether (EGME) method,[3] Brunauer-Emmett-Teller (N2-BET) adsorption method and Protein Retention (PR) method.[4]

See http://cms.wsl.ch/fe/schnee/projekte/SSA/index_EN for more information


The SSA can be simply calculated from a particle size distribution, making some assumption about the particle shape. This method, however, fails to account for surface associated with the surface texture of the particles.


The SSA can be measured by adsorption using the BET isotherm. This has the advantage of measuring the surface of fine structures and deep texture on the particles. However, the results can differ markedly depending on the substance adsorbed.

Gas permeability[edit]

This depends upon a relationship between the specific surface area and the resistance to gas-flow of a porous bed of powder. The method is simple and quick, and yields a result that often correlates well with the chemical reactivity of a powder. However, it fails to measure much of the deep surface texture.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ http://goldbook.c60.kiev.ua/S05806.pdf IUPAC Compendium of Chemical Terminology 2nd Edition (1997)
  2. ^ http://web.archive.org/web/20060905224652/http://www.soils.wisc.edu/~ss322/lectures/lec+8-11.pdf
  3. ^ Cerato, A. and Lutenegger, A. (2002). Determination of surface area of fine-grained soils by the ethylene glycol monoethyl ether (EGME) method. Geotechnical Testing Journal. 25(3), 1-7
  4. ^ Paykov, O., and Hawley, H. 2013. A Novel Method for Specific Surface Area Determination in Swelling Clays, Geotechnical Testing Journal (in press)