American Chemical Society
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Hydrated Electrons in High-Concentration Electrolytes Interact with Multiple Cations: A Simulation Study

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journal contribution
posted on 2022-05-11, 16:07 authored by Wilberth A. Narvaez, Sanghyun J. Park, Benjamin J. Schwartz
Experimental studies have demonstrated that the hydrated electron’s absorption spectrum undergoes a concentration-dependent blue-shift in the presence of electrolytes such as NaCl. The blue-shift increases roughly linearly at low salt concentration but saturates as the solubility limit of the salt is approached. Previous attempts to understand the origin of the concentration-dependent spectral shift using molecular simulation have only examined the interaction between the hydrated electron and a single sodium cation, and these simulations predicted a spectral blue-shift that was an order of magnitude larger than that seen experimentally. Thus, in this paper, we first explore the reasons for the exaggerated spectral blue-shift when a simulated hydrated electron interacts with a single Na+. We find that the issue arises from nonpairwise additivity of the Na+–e and H2O–e pseudopotentials used in the simulation. This effect arises because the solvating water molecules donate charge into the empty orbitals of Na+, lowering the effective charge of the cation and thus reducing the excess electron–cation interaction. Careful analysis shows, however, that although this nonpairwise additivity changes the energetics of the electron–Na+ interaction, the forces between the electron, Na+, and water are unaffected, so that mixed quantum/classical (MQC) simulations produce the correct structure and dynamics. With this in hand, we then use MQC simulations to explore the behavior of the hydrated electron as an explicit function of NaCl salt concentration. We find that the simulations correctly reproduce the observed experimental spectral shifting behavior. The reason for the spectral shift is that as the electrolyte concentration increases, the average number of cations simultaneously interacting in contact pairs with the hydrated electron increases from 1.0 at low concentrations to ∼2.5 near the saturation limit. As the number of cations that interact with the electron increases, the cation/electron interactions becomes slightly weaker, so that the corresponding Na+–e distance increases with increasing salt concentration. We also find that the dielectric constant of the solution plays little role in the observed spectroscopy, so that the electrolyte-dependent spectral shifts of the hydrated electron are directly related to the concentration-dependent number of closely interacting cations.