Microscopic dynamics of charge separation at the aqueous electrochemical interface [Chemistry]
We have used molecular simulation and methods of importance sampling to study the thermodynamics and kinetics of ionic charge separation at a liquid water–metal interface. We have considered this process using canonical examples of two different classes of ions: a simple alkali–halide pair, Na+I−, or classical ions, and the products of water autoionization, H3O+OH−, or water ions. We find that for both ion classes, the microscopic mechanism of charge separation, including water’s collective role in the process, is conserved between the bulk liquid and the electrode interface. However, the thermodynamic and kinetic details of the process differ between these two environments in a way that depends on ion type. In the case of the classical ion pairs, a higher free-energy barrier to charge separation and a smaller flux over that barrier at the interface result in a rate of dissociation that is 40 times slower relative to the bulk. For water ions, a slightly higher free-energy barrier is offset by a higher flux over the barrier from longer lived hydrogen-bonding patterns at the interface, resulting in a rate of association that is similar both at and away from the interface. We find that these differences in rates and stabilities of charge separation are due to the altered ability of water to solvate and reorganize in the vicinity of the metal interface.
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