Molecular insights in aqueous systems: from electrolyte solutions to aqueous nanoscale interfaces

The unique structure and dynamics of the water hydrogen (H)-bond network enable a multitude of structures and chemical reactions in both bulk solutions and at interfaces. The underlying molecular interactions between water and dissolved electrolytes, organic molecules, and nanoscale interfaces are difficult to study and hence not fully understood, especially when it involves interactions of length scales larger than one nanometer. In this thesis, we perform second order nonlinear light scattering experiments to investigate extended hydration shells (over one nanometer) and interfacial structures of buried aqueous interfaces that surround nanodroplets. We investigate the spatial range of ion-water interactions by probing the molecular structure of the water network in dilute electrolyte solutions. We find that electrolytes induce long-range, non-ion-specific orientational order in the H-bond network of water (over distances up to 70 hydration shells or 20 nm). These modifications in the water network start at electrolyte concentrations as low as 10 micromolar. The amount of induced orientational order and the concentration at which it occurs is different between light and heavy water. We link the observed ion induced changes in the bulk H-bond network of water to ion induced surface tension anomalies that occur in the same concentration range. We also study the same interactions in solutions with higher electrolyte concentrations focusing on cations. We observe specific ion effects in both the local charge distribution and water ordering in extended hydration shells of ions. Cations with larger charge densities induce larger changes in these two observables that follow a direct Hofmeister trend. The ion-induced structural changes in the water network are strongly correlated with the viscosity B-coefficient and hydration free energy of cations. These correlations facilitate constructing a better molecular model for specific ion effects in aqueous solutions. Next, we study the nanoscale hydrophobe/water interface and related interactions by probing the molecular structure of the interface formed with amphiphilic alkanols. We find that alkanols form a fluid film at the oil nanodroplet surface. Long chain alkanols show similar molecular structures and number densities at the interface. With increasing alkanol density, interfacial water loses its initial orientational alignment. The structure of interfacial oil molecules is more distorted for shorter alkanols. This interfacial structure differs significantly from those of macroscopic planar alkanol/water and alkanol/air interfaces and charged surfactant/oil/water interface, which can be explained by the balance between dispersive and H-bonding interactions. Finally, we develop a new membrane model system: 3D-lipid monolayers with tunable molecular structure on oil nanodroplets in water. This in-situ prepared system mimics the structure of lipid droplets in cells. The interfacial structure of lipids can be tuned from a tightly packed monolayer (liquid condensed phase) to a dilute one (liquid condensed/liquid expanded coexistence phase) by varying the lipid/oil/water ratio. The tunability of the chemical structure, the high surface-to-volume ratio, and the small sample volume make this system ideal for studies of molecular interactions of lipids in membranes.

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