The analysis of the charge, structure and molecular interactions of/within polymeric substrates defines an important analytical challenge in materials science. Accordingly, advanced electrokinetic methods and theories have been developed to investigate the charging mechanisms and structure of soft material coatings. In particular, there has been significant progress in the quantitative interpretation of streaming current and surface conductivity data of polymeric films from the application of recent theories developed for the electrohydrodynamics of diffuse soft planar interfaces. Here, we review the theory and experimental strategies to analyze the interrelations of the charge and structure of polyelectrolyte layers supported by planar carriers under electrokinetic conditions. To illustrate the options arising from these developments, we discuss experimental and simulation data for plasma-immobilized poly(acrylic acid) films and for a polyelectrolyte bilayer consisting of poly(ethylene imine) and poly(acrylic acid). Finally, we briefly outline potential future developments in the field of the electrokinetics of polyelectrolyte layers.
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