Water at an electrochemical interface--a simulation study

Faraday Discuss. 2009;141:423-41; discussion 443-65. doi: 10.1039/b805544k.


The results of molecular dynamics simulations of the properties of water in an aqueous ionic solution close to an interface with a model metallic electrode are described. In the simulations the electrode behaves as an ideally polarizable hydrophilic metal, supporting image-charge interactions with charged species, and it is maintained at a constant electrical potential with respect to the solution so that the model is a textbook representation of an electrochemical interface through which no current is passing. We show how water is strongly attracted to and ordered at the electrode surface. This ordering is different to the structure that might be imagined from continuum models of electrode interfaces. Further, this ordering significantly affects the probability of ions reaching the surface. We describe the concomitant motion and configurations of the water and ions as functions of the electrode potential, and we analyze the length scales over which ionic atmospheres fluctuate. The statistics of these fluctuations depend upon surface structure and ionic strength. The fluctuations are large--sufficiently so that the mean ionic atmosphere is a poor descriptor of the aqueous environment near a metal surface. The importance of this finding for a description of electrochemical reactions is examined by calculating, directly from the simulation, Marcus free-energy profiles for transfer of charge between the electrode and a redox species in the solution and comparing the results with the predictions of continuum theories. Significant departures from the electrochemical textbook descriptions of the phenomenon are found and their physical origins are characterized from the atomistic perspective of the simulations.