Chemistry Publications


Molecular Dynamics Simulations of Electrosprayed Water Nanodroplets: Internal Potential Gradients, Location of Excess Charge Centers, and “Hopping” Protons

Document Type


Publication Date



Journal of Physical Chemistry B





First Page


Last Page


URL with Digital Object Identifier



Water nanodroplets charged with excess protons play a central role during electrospray ionization (ESI). In the current study molecular dynamics (MD) simulations were used for gaining insights into the nanodroplet behavior based on classical mechanics. The SPC/E water model was modified to permit the inclusion of protons as highly mobile point charges at minimum computational cost. A spherical trapping potential was assigned to every SPC/E oxygen, thereby allowing the formation of protonated water molecules. Within a tightly packed nanodroplet the individual potential wells merge to form a three-dimensional energy landscape that facilitates rapid proton hopping between water molecules. This approach requires short-range modifications to the standard Coulomb potential for modeling electrostatic proton-water interactions. Simulations on nanodroplets consisting of 1248 water molecules and 10 protons (radius, ca. 21 A) result in a proton diffusion coefficient that is in agreement with the value measured in bulk solution. Radial proton distributions extracted from 1 ns MD runs exhibit a large peak around 14 A, in addition to substantial population density closer to the droplet center. Similar radial distributions were found for nanodroplets charged with Na+ ions. This behavior is dramatically different from that expected on the basis of continuum electrostatic theory, which predicts that excess charge should be confined to a thin layer on the droplet surface. One important contributor to this effect seems to be the ordering of water molecules at the liquid/vacuum interface. This ordering results in an electrical double layer, generating a potential gradient that tends to pull positive charge carriers (such as protons, but also others such as Na+ ions) toward the droplet interior. This deviation from the widely assumed surface charge paradigm could have implications for the mechanism by which protonated analyte ions are formed during ESI.

Find in your library