Noncovalent Control of the Electrostatic Potential of Quantum Dots through the Formation of Interfacial Ion Pairs

Chen He, Trung D. Nguyen, Kedy Edme, Monica Olvera De La Cruz*, Emily A. Weiss

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


This paper describes the role of tetraalkylammonium counterions [NR4+, R = -CH3, -CH2CH3, -(CH2)2CH3, or -(CH2)3CH3] in gating the electrostatic potential at the interface between the 6-mercaptohexanoate (MHA) ligand shell of a PbS quantum dot (QD) and water. The permeability of this ligand shell to a negatively charged anthraquinone derivative (AQ), measured from the yield of electron transfer (eT) from the QD core to AQ, increases as the steric bulk of NR4+ increases (for a given concentration of NR4+). This result indicates that bulkier counterions screen repulsive interactions at the ligand/solvent interface more effectively than smaller counterions. Free energy scaling analysis and molecular dynamics simulations suggest that ion pairing between the ligand shell of the QD and NR4+ results from a combination of electrostatic and van der Waals components, and that the van der Waals interaction promotes ion pairing with longer-chain counterions and more effective screening. This work provides molecular-level details that dictate a nanoparticle's electrostatic potential and demonstrates the sensitivity of the yield of photoinduced charge transfer between a QD and a molecular probe to even low-affinity binding events at the QD/solvent interface.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10126-10132
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of the American Chemical Society
Issue number29
StatePublished - Jul 26 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Catalysis
  • Chemistry(all)
  • Biochemistry
  • Colloid and Surface Chemistry


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