Chemistry Publications


A Simple Model for the Disintegration of Highly Charged Solvent Droplets during Electrospray Ionization

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Journal of the American Society for Mass Spectrometry





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This work uses a minimalist model for deciphering the opposing effects of Coulomb repulsion and surface tension on the stability of electrosprayed droplets. Guided by previous observations, it is assumed that progeny droplets are ejected from the tip of liquid filaments that are formed as protrusions of an initially spherical parent. Nonspherical shapes are approximated as assemblies of multiple closely spaced beads. This strategy greatly facilitates the calculation of electrostatic and surface energies. For a droplet at the Rayleigh limit the model predicts that growth of a very thin filament is a spontaneous process with a negligible activation barrier. In contrast, significant barriers are encountered for the formation of larger diameter filaments. These different barrier heights favor highly asymmetric droplet fission because the dimensions of the filament determine those of the ejected droplet(s). Substantial charge accumulation occurs at the filament termini. This allows each progeny droplet to carry a significant fraction of charge, despite its very small volume. In the absence of a long connecting filament, relieving electrostatic stress through progeny droplet emission would be ineffective. The model predicts the prevalence of fission events leading to the formation of several progeny droplets, instead of just a single one. Ejection bursts are followed by collapse back to a spherical shape. The resulting charge depleted system is incapable of producing additional progeny droplets until solvent evaporation returns it to the Rayleigh limit. Despite the very simple nature of the model used here, all of these predictions agree with experimental data.