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Elucidating the Bimodal Acid−Base Behavior of the Water−Silica Interface from First Principles

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journal contribution
posted on 30.12.2009, 00:00 by Kevin Leung, Ida M. B. Nielsen, Louise J. Criscenti
Understanding the acid−base behavior of silica surfaces is critical for many nanoscience and bionano interface applications. Silanol groups (SiOH) on silica surfaces exhibit two acidity constantsone as acidic as vinegarbut their structural basis remains controversial. The atomic details of the more acidic silanol site govern not just the overall surface charge density at near neutral solution pH but also how ions and biomolecules interact with and bind to silica immersed in water. Using ab initio molecular dynamics simulations and multiple representative crystalline silica surfaces, we determine the deprotonation free energies of silanol groups with different structural motifs. We show that previously proposed motifs related to chemical connectivity or intersilanol hydrogen bonds do not yield high acidity. Instead, a plausible candiate for pKa = 4.5 silanol groups may be found in locally strained or defected regions with sparse silanol coverage. In the process, irreversible ring-opening reactions of strained silica trimer rings in contact with liquid water are observed.