Charge regulation in polyacid monolayers attached at one end to a planar surface is studied theoretically. The polyacid layers are designed to mimic single-stranded DNA monolayers. The effects of the local pH and salt concentration on the protonation states of the polyacid layer are studied using a molecular mean-field theory that includes a microscopic description of the conformations of the polyacid molecule along with electrostatic interactions, acid-base equilibrium, and excluded volume interactions. We predict that, in the case of a monovalent salt, NaCl, the amount of proton binding increases dramatically for high surface coverage of polyacid and low bulk salt concentration. When the polyelectrolyte is almost completely charge neutralized by bound protons, there is an expulsion of sodium from the layer. We show that the degree of protonation can go all the way from 0% to 100% when the bulk pH is kept fixed at 7 by changing the surface coverage of polyacid and the bulk salt concentration. The effects of increasing protonation and the expulsion of the cations from the monolayer are reduced when sodium ions are replaced by divalent magnesium ions. Our theoretical results concur with X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy studies of ssDNA monolayers on gold.
© 2011 American Chemical Society