Mapping hydrophobicity at the nanoscale: applications to heterogeneous surfaces and proteins

Faraday Discuss. 2010;146:353-65; discussion 367-93, 395-401. doi: 10.1039/b927019a.


Approaches to quantify wetting at the macroscale do not translate to the nanoscale, highlighting the need for new methods for characterizing hydrophobicity at the small scale. We use extensive molecular simulations to study the hydration of homo and heterogeneous self-assembled monolayers (SAMs) and of protein surfaces. For homogeneous SAMs, new pressure-dependent analysis shows that water displays higher compressibility and enhanced density fluctuations near hydrophobic surfaces, which are gradually quenched with increasing hydrophilicity, consistent with our previous studies. Heterogeneous surfaces show an interesting context dependence--adding a single -OH group in a CH3 terminated SAM has a more dramatic effect on water in the vicinity compared to that of a single CH3 group in an -OH background. For mixed -CH3/-OH SAMs, this asymmetry leads to a non-linear dependence of hydrophobicity on the surface concentration. We also present preliminary results to map hydrophobicity of protein surfaces by monitoring local density fluctuations and binding of probe hydrophobic solutes. These molecular measures account for the behavior of protein's hydration water, and present a more refined picture of its hydrophobicity map. At least for one protein, hydrophobin-II, we show that the hydrophobicity map is different from that suggested by a commonly used hydropathy scale.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Computer Simulation
  • Hydrophobic and Hydrophilic Interactions*
  • Nanotechnology
  • Protein Folding
  • Proteins / chemistry*
  • Surface Properties


  • Proteins