The composition and mode of attachment of Cu(II) complexes at the gamma-Al2O3-water interface in suspensions containing a simple amino acid (glutamate) were characterized with EXAFS and FTIR spectroscopies. The spectroscopic results indicate that two types of Cu(II)-glutamate-alumina interactions are primarily responsible for Cu(II) and glutamate uptake between pH 4 and 9. In acidic suspensions of alumina, glutamate forms a bridge between Cu(II) ions and the (hydr)oxide surface (Type B complex). In this Type B surface complex, Cu(II) is bonded to amino acid headgroups (i.e., +H3NCHRCOO-) of two glutamate molecules. Spectroscopic and ionic strength dependent uptake results are combined to propose that the nonbonded side chain carboxylate groups of this complex are attracted to the oxide surface through long-range forces, leading to enhanced Cu(II) uptake relative to the glutamate-free system. In alkaline suspensions the relative amount of surface-bound Cu(II) complexed by glutamate decreases, and a direct Cu(II)-surface bond becomes the dominant mode of attachment (Type A complex). These surface complexes differ markedly from the species found in the alumina-fi ee Cu(II)glutamate aqueous system under similar solution conditions, where Cu(H2O)(6)(2+) and Cu(glutamate)(2)(2-) are the dominant species in acidic and alkaline solutions, respectively. Based on these spectroscopic results, surface complexation reactions are proposed for the Cu(II) and glutamate ternary interactions with the alumina surface in this system. Similarities between the results of this study and Cu(II) uptake behavior and complexation in the presence of natural organic material (NOM) indicate that Cu(II)-glutamate interactions mimic those in more complex Cu(II)-NOM-mineral-water systems, (C) 1999 Academic Press.