The study of tin oxide is motivated by its applications as a solid state gas sensor material, oxidation catalyst, and transparent conductor. This review describes the physical and chemical properties that make tin oxide a suitable material for these purposes. The emphasis is on surface science studies of single crystal surfaces, but selected studies on powder and polycrystalline films are also incorporated in order to provide connecting points between surface science studies with the broader field of materials science of tin oxide. The key for understanding many aspects of SnO2 surface properties is the dual valency of Sn. The dual valency facilitates a reversible transformation of the surface composition from stoichiometric surfaces with Sn4+ surface cations into a reduced surface with Sn2+ surface cations depending on the oxygen chemical potential of the system. Reduction of the surface modifies the surface electronic structure by formation of Sn 5s derived surface states that lie deep within the band gap and also cause a lowering of the work function. The gas sensing mechanism appears, however, only to be indirectly influenced by the surface composition of SnO2. Critical for triggering a gas response are not the lattice oxygen concentration but chemisorbed (or ionosorbed) oxygen and other molecules with a net electric charge. Band bending induced by charged molecules cause the increase or decrease in surface conductivity responsible for the gas response signal. In most applications tin oxide is modified by additives to either increase the charge carrier concentration by donor atoms, or to increase the gas sensitivity or the catalytic activity by metal additives. Some of the basic concepts by which additives modify the gas sensing and catalytic properties of SnO2 are discussed and the few surface science studies of doped SnO2 are reviewed. Epitaxial SnO2 films may facilitate the surface science studies of doped films in the future. To this end film growth on titania, alumina, and Pt(111) is reviewed. Thin films on alumina also make promising test systems for probing gas sensing behavior. Molecular adsorption and reaction studies on SnO2 surfaces have been hampered by the challenges of preparing well-characterized surfaces. Nevertheless some experimental and theoretical studies have been performed and are reviewed. Of particular interest in these studies was the influence of the surface composition on its chemical properties. Finally, the variety of recently synthesized tin oxide nanoscopic materials is summarized.
Reprints available from U. Diebold (diebold).
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