The behavior of ions in liquids confined between macromolecules determines the outcome of many nanoscale assembly processes in synthetic and biological materials such as colloidal dispersions, emulsions, hydrogels, DNA, cell membranes, and proteins. Theoretically, the macromolecule-liquid boundary is often modeled as a dielectric interface and an important quantity of interest is the ionic structure in a liquid confined between two such interfaces. The knowledge gleaned from the study of ionic structure in such models can be useful in several industrial applications, such as in the design of double-layer supercapacitors for energy storage and in the extraction of metal ions from wastewater. In this article, we compute the ionic structure in a model system of electrolyte confined by two planar dielectric interfaces using molecular dynamics simulations and liquid state theory. We explore the effects of high electrolyte concentrations, multivalent ions, dielectric contrasts, and external electric field on the ionic distributions. We observe the presence of non-monotonic ionic density profiles leading to a layered structure in the fluid which is attributed to the competition between electrostatic and steric (entropic) interactions. We find that thermal forces that arise from symmetry breaking at the interfaces can have a profound effect on the ionic structure and can oftentimes overwhelm the influence of the dielectric discontinuity. The combined effect of ionic correlations and inhomogeneous dielectric permittivity significantly changes the character of the effective interaction between the two interfaces.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Physics and Astronomy(all)
- Physical and Theoretical Chemistry