In this paper active screen plasma nitriding (ASPN) is used to chemically modify the surface of UHMWPE. This is an unexplored and new area of research. ASPN allows the homogeneous treatment of any shape or surface at low temperature; therefore, it was thought that ASPN would be an effective technique to modify organic polymer surfaces. ASPN experiments were carried out at 120 degrees C using a dc plasma nitriding unit with a 25% N-2 and 75% H-2 atmosphere at 2.5 mbar of pressure. UHMWPE samples treated for different time periods were characterized by nanoindentation, FTIR, XPS, interferometry and SEM. A 3T3 fibroblast cell line was used for in vitro cell culture experiments. Nanoindentation of UHMWPE showed that hardness and elastic modulus increased with ASPN treatment compared to the untreated material. FTIR spectra did not show significant differences between the untreated and treated samples; however, some changes were observed at 30 min of treatment in the range of 1500-1700 cm(-1) associated mainly with the presence of N-H groups. XPS studies showed that nitrogen was present on the surface and its amount increased with treatment time. Interferometry showed that no significant changes were observed on the surfaces after the treatment. Finally, cell culture experiments and SEM showed that fibroblasts attached and proliferated to a greater extent on the plasma-treated surfaces leading to the conclusion that ASPN surface treatment can potentially significantly improve the biocompatibility behaviour of polymeric materials.