Salt Solutions in Carbon Nanotubes: The Role of Cation-π Interactions

Tuan Anh Pham, S. M Golam Mortuza, Brandon C. Wood, Edmond Y Lau, Tadashi Ogitsu, Steven F. Buchsbaum, Zuzanna S. Siwy, Francesco Fornasiero, Eric Schwegler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


Understanding the structure of aqueous electrolytes at interfaces is essential for predicting and optimizing device performance for a wide variety of emerging energy and environmental technologies. In this work, we investigate the structure of two common salt solutions, NaCl and KCl, at a hydrophobic interface within narrow carbon nanotubes (CNTs). Using a combination of first-principles and classical molecular dynamics simulations in conjunction with molecular orbital analysis, we find that the solvation structure of the cations in the CNTs can deviate substantially from the conventional weakly interacting hydrophobic picture. Instead, interactions between solvated ions and π orbitals of the CNTs are found to play a critically important role. Specifically, the ion solvation structure is ultimately determined by a complex interplay between cation-π interactions and the intrinsic flexibility of the solvation shell. In the case of K+, these effects result in an unusually strong propensity to partially desolvate and reside closer to the carbon wall than both Na+ and Cl-, in sharp contrast with the known ion ordering at the water-vapor interface. (Graph Presented).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7332-7338
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Physical Chemistry C
Issue number13
StatePublished - Apr 7 2016
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Electronic, Optical and Magnetic Materials
  • Surfaces, Coatings and Films
  • Energy(all)


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