where E° is the "standard" (or formal) potential of that particular glass electrode on the hydrogen scale.

Departures from the ideal behavior expressed by equation 11 usually are found in alkaline solutions containing alkali metal ions in appreciable concentration, and often in solutions of strong acids. The supposition that the alkaline error is associated with the development of an imperfect response to alkali metal ions is substantiated by the successful design of cation-sensitive glass electrodes that are used to determine sodium, silver, and other monovalent cations (3).

The advantage of the lithium glasses over the sodium glasses in the reduction of alkaline error is attributed to the smaller size of the proton sites remaining after elution of the lithium ions from the glass surface. This interpre tation is consistent with the relative magnitudes of the alkaline errors for various cations. These errors decrease rapidly as the diameter of the cation becomes larger. The error observed in concentrated solutions of the strong acids is characterized by a marked drift of potential with time, which is thought to result from the penetration of acid anions, as well as protons, into the glass surface (11).

The immersion of glass electrodes in strongly dehydrating media should be avoided. If the electrode is used in solvents of low water activity, frequent conditioning in water is advisable, as dehydration of the gel layer of the surface causes a progressive alteration in the electrode potential with a consequent drift of the measured pH. Slow dissolution of the pH-sensitive membrane is unavoidable, and it eventually leads to mechanical failure. Standardization of the electrode with two buffer solutions is the best means of early detection of incipient electrode failure.

Fouling of the pH sensor may occur in solutions containing surface-active constituents that coat the electrode surface and may result in sluggish response and drift of the pH reading. Prolonged measurements in blood, sludges, and various industrial process materials and wastes can cause such drift; therefore, it is necessary to clean the membrane mechanically or chemically at intervals that are consistent with the magnitude of the effect and the precision of the results required.

Reference Electrodes and Liquid Junctions

The electrical circuit of the pH cell is completed through a salt bridge that usually consists of a concentrated solution of potassium chloride. The solution makes contact at one end with the test solution and at the other with a reference electrode of constant potential. The liquid junction is formed at the area of contact between the salt bridge and test solutions. The mercury-mercurous chloride electrode—the calomel electrode—provides a highly reproducible potential in the potassium chloride bridge solution and is the most widely used reference electrode. However, mer-curous chloride is converted readily into mercuric ion and mercury when in contact with concentrated potassium chloride solutions above 80°C. This disproportionation reaction causes an unstable potential with calomel electrodes. Therefore, the silver-silver chloride electrode and the thallium amalgam-thallous chloride electrode often are preferred for measurements above 80°C. However, because silver chloride is relatively soluble in concentrated solutions of potassium chloride, the solution in the electrode chamber must be saturated with silver chloride to avoid dissolution of the electrode coating.

The commercially used reference electrode-salt bridge combination usually is of the immersion type. The saltbridge chamber usually surrounds the electrode element. Some provision is made to allow a slow leakage of the bridge solution out of the tip of the electrode to establish a stable liquid junction with the standard solution or test solution in the pH cell. An opening is usually provided through which the electrode chamber may be refilled with the salt-bridge solution. Various devices are used to constrain the outflow of bridge solution, for example, fibers, porous ceramics, capillaries, ground-glass joints, and con trolled cracks. Such commercial electrodes normally give very satisfactory results, but there is some evidence that the type and structure of the junction may affect the reference potential when measurements are made at very low pH and, possibly, at high alkalinities.

Combination electrodes have increased in use and are a consolidation of the glass and reference electrodes in a single probe, usually in a concentric arrangement, with the reference electrode compartment surrounding the pH sensor. The advantages of combination electrodes include the convenience of using a single probe and the ability to measure small volumes of sample solution or in restricted-access containers, for example, test tubes and narrow-neck flasks. A disadvantage of this arrangement is that if one of the electrodes becomes defective, the entire combination assembly must be discarded.

Theoretical considerations favor liquid junctions in which cylindrical symmetry and a steady state of ionic diffusion are achieved. Special cells in which a stable junction can be achieved are not difficult to construct and are available commercially.

A solution of potassium chloride that is saturated at room temperature usually is used for the salt bridge. It has been shown that the higher the concentration of the potassium chloride solution, the more effective the bridge solution is in reducing the liquid-junction potential (12). Also, the saturated potassium chloride calomel and silver-silver chloride reference electrodes are stable, reproducible, and easy to prepare. However, after long periods and with temperature lowering, the salt-bridge chamber may become filled with large crystals of potassium chloride that block the flow of bridge solution and thereby impair the reproducibility of the junction potential and raise the resistance of the cell. A slightly undersaturated (eg, 3.5 M) solution of potassium chloride is preferred. The calomel electrode has the added disadvantage that it shows a marked potential hysteresis with changes of temperature.

Samples that contain suspended matter are among the most difficult types from which to obtain accurate pH readings because of the so-called suspension effect, that is, the suspended particles produce abnormal liquid-junction potentials at the reference electrode (13). This effect is especially noticeable with soil slurries, pastes, and other types of colloidal suspensions. In the case of a slurry that separates into two layers, pH differences of several units may result, depending on the placement of the electrodes in the layers. Internal consistency is achieved by pH measurement using carefully prescribed measurement protocols, as has been used in the determination of soil pH (14).

Another problem that may result in spurious pH readings is caused by streaming potentials. Presumably, these are attributable to changes in the reference electrode liquid junction that are caused by variations in the flow rate of the sample solution. Factors that affect the observed pH include the magnitude of the flow-rate changes, the geometry of the electrode system, and the concentration of the salt-bridge electrolyte; therefore, this problem may be avoided by maintaining constant flow and geometry characteristics and calibrating the system under operating conditions that are identical to those of the sample measurement.


The pH meter is an electronic voltmeter that provides a direct conversion of voltage differences to differences of pH at the measurement temperature (15). One class of instruments is the direct-reading analogue, which has a deflection meter with a large scale calibrated in mV and pH units. Most modern direct-reading meters have digital displays of the emf or pH. The types range from very inexpensive meters that read to the nearest 0.1 pH unit to the research models capable of measuring pH with a precision of 0.001 pH unit and drifting less than 0.003 pH unit over 24 h; however, it should be noted that the fundamental meaning of these measured values is considerably less certain than the precision of the measurement.

Because of the very large resistance of the glass membrane in a conventional pH electrode, an input amplifier of high impedance (usually 1012-1014 Q) is required to avoid errors in the pH (or mV) readings. Most pH meters have field-effect transistor amplifiers that typically exhibit bias currents of only a picoampere (10~12 ampere), which, for an electrode resistance of 100 MQ, results in an emf error of only 0.1 mV (0.002 pH unit).

In addition, most of these devices provide operator control of settings for temperature and/or response slope, isopotential point, zero or standardization, and function (pH, mV, or monovalent/divalent cation/anion). Microprocessors are incorporated in advanced-design meters to facilitate calibration, calculation of measurement parameters, and automatic temperature compensation. Furthermore, pH meters are provided with output connectors for continuous readout via a strip-chart recorder and often with binary-coded decimal output for computer interconnections or connection to a printer. Although the accuracy of the measurement is not increased by the use of a recorder, the readability of the displayed pH (on analogue models) can be expanded, and recording provides a permanent record with information on response and equilibration times during measurement (5).

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