The lack of an in-depth understanding of solution-phase speciation and its relationship to solid-state phase formation is a grand challenge in synthesis science. It has severely limited the ability of inorganic chemists to predict or rationalize the formation of compounds from solutions. The need to investigate mechanisms that underlie self-assembly has motivated this study of aqueous Zr-sulfate chemistry as a model system, with the goal of understanding the structures of oligomeric clusters present in solution. We used high-energy X-ray scattering (HEXS) data to quantify Zr correlations in a series of solutions as a function of sulfate concentration. The pair distribution function (PDF) from the sulfate-free sample reveals that the average oligomeric Zr moiety is larger than the tetrameric building unit, [Zr4(OH)8(H 2O)16]8+, generally understood to dominate its solution speciation. At sulfate concentrations greater than 1 m (molal), bidentate sulfate is observed, a coordination not seen in Zr(SO 4)2·4H2O (2), which forms upon evaporation. Also seen in solution are correlations consistent with sulfate-bridged Zr dimers and the higher-order oligomers seen in 2. At intermediate sulfate concentrations there are correlations consistent with large Zr hydroxo-/oxo-bridged clusters. Crystals of [Zr18(OH) 26O20(H2O)23.2(SO4) 12.7]Cl0.6·nH2O (3) precipitate from these solutions. The Raman spectrum of 3 has a peak at 1017 cm-1 that can be used as a signature for its presence in solution. Raman studies on deuterated solutions point to the important role of sulfate in the crystallization process. These solution results emphasize the presence of well-defined prenucleation correlations on length scales of <1 nm, often considered to be within the structurally amorphous regime.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Colloid and Surface Chemistry