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Ion Pairing and Molecular Orientation at Liquid/Liquid Interfaces: Self-Assembly and Function...

Publication Type
Journal Name
The Journal of Physical Chemistry B
Publication Date
Page Numbers
2316 to 2323

Molecular orientation plays a pivotal role in defining the functionality and chemistry of interfaces, yet accurate measurements probing this important feature are few, due, in part, to technical and analytical limitations in extracting information from molecular monolayers. For example, buried liquid/liquid interfaces, where a complex and poorly understood balance of inter- and intramolecular interactions impart structural constraints that facilitate the formation of supramolecular assemblies capable of new functions, are difficult to probe experimentally. Here, we use vibrational sum-frequency generation spectroscopy, numerical polarization analysis, and atomistic molecular dynamics simulations to probe molecular orientations at buried oil/aqueous interfaces decorated with amphiphilic oligomers. We show that the orientation of self-assembled oligomers changes upon the addition of salts in the aqueous phase. The evolution of these structures can be described by competitive ion effects in the aqueous phase altering the orientations of the tails extending into the oil phase. These specific anionic effects occur via interfacial ion pairing and associated changes in interfacial solvation and hydrogen-bonding networks. These findings provide more quantitative insight into orientational changes encountered during self-assembly and pave the way for the design of functional interfaces for chemical separations, neuromorphic computing applications, and related biomimetic systems.