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Ion Pairing Mediates Molecular Organization Across Liquid/Liquid Interfaces

Publication Type
Journal Name
ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces
Publication Date
Page Numbers
33734 to 33743

Liquid/liquid interfaces play a central role in scientific fields ranging from nanomaterial synthesis and soft matter electronics to nuclear waste remediation and chemical separations. This diversity of functions arises from an interface’s ability to respond to changing conditions in its neighboring bulk phases. Understanding what drives this interfacial flexibility can provide novel avenues for designing new functional interfaces. However, limiting this progress is an inadequate understanding of the subtle intermolecular and interphase interactions taking place at the molecular level. Here, we use surface-specific vibrational sum frequency generation spectroscopy combined with atomistic molecular dynamics simulations to investigate the self-assembly and structure of model ionic oligomers consisting of an oligodimethylsiloxane (ODMS) tail covalently attached to a positively charged methyl imidazolium (MIM+) head group at buried oil/aqueous interfaces. We show how the presence of seemingly innocuous salts can impart dramatic changes to the ODMS tail conformations in the oil phase via specific ion effects and ion-pairing interactions taking place in the aqueous phase. These specific ion interactions are shown to drive enhanced amphiphile adsorption, induce morphological changes, and disrupt emergent hydrogen-bonding structures at the interface. Tuning these interactions allows for independent control over the oligomer structure in the oil phase versus interfacial population changes and represents key mechanistic insight that is needed to control chemical reactions at liquid/liquid interfaces.