Emergence of Solvent-Separated Na+–Cl Ion Pair in Salt Water: Photoelectron Spectroscopy and Theoretical Calculations

Solvation of salts in water is a fundamental physical chemical process, but the underlying mechanism remains unclear. We investigated the contact ion pair (CIP) to solvent-separated ion pair (SSIP) transition in NaCl­(H2O)n clusters with anion photoelectron spectroscopy and ab initio calculations. It is found that the SSIP type of structures show up at n = 2 for NaCl(H2O)n anions. For neutral NaCl­(H2O)n, the CIP structures are dominant at n < 9. At n = 9–12, the CIP structures and SSIP structures of NaCl­(H2O)n are nearly degenerate in energy, coincident to the H2O:NaCl molar ratio of NaCl saturated solution and implying that the CIP and SSIP structures can coexist in concentrated solutions. These results are useful for understanding the solvation of salts at the molecular level.