Surface Charge of Electrosprayed Water Nanodroplets: A Molecular Dynamics Study
Journal of the American Chemical Society
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Aqueous nanodroplets that contain excess charge carriers play a central role during the electrospray ionization (ESI) process. An interesting question concerns the charge carrier location in these systems. In analogy to the behavior of metallic conductors, it is often assumed that excess ions are confined to a thin layer on the droplet surface. However, it is unclear whether simple electrostatic arguments adequately reflect the nanodroplet behavior. In particular, most ions tend to be heavily solvated, such that placing them at the liquid/vapor interface would be enthalpically unfavorable. In this work, molecular dynamics simulations are used to study the properties of Na(+)-containing water nanodroplets close to the Rayleigh limit. In apparent violation of the surface charge paradigm, it is found that the ions reside inside the droplet. Electrostatic mapping reveals that all of the excess charge is nonetheless located on the surface. This conundrum is resolved by considering the effects of orientational water polarization. Buried Na(+) ions cause large-scale dipole ordering that extends all the way to the droplet periphery. Here, the positive ends of water dipoles preferentially point into the vapor phase. These half-dipoles in the outermost droplet layers assume the role of surface charge, while solvation effectively neutralizes Na(+) ions in the interior. Overall, our data reaffirm the validity of the surface charge paradigm for ESI nanodroplets, albeit with the caveat that this paradigm does NOT require charge carriers (ions) to be located at the water/vapor interface.