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J Chem Phys. 2009 Aug 21;131(7):074703. doi: 10.1063/1.3205946.

Bridging oxygen as a site for proton adsorption on the vitreous silica surface.

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  • 1Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Interfacial Molecular Science Laboratory, Rutgers University, Piscataway, New Jersey 08855, USA.


Molecular dynamics computer simulations were used to study the protonation of bridging oxygen (Si-O-Si) sites present on the vitreous silica surface in contact with water using a dissociative water potential. In contrast to first-principles calculations based on unconstrained molecular analogs, such as H(7)Si(2)O(7)(+) molecules, the very limited flexibility of neighboring SiO(4) tetrahedra when embedded in a solid surface means that there is a relatively minor geometric response to proton adsorption, requiring sites predisposed to adsorption. Simulation results indicate that protonation of bridging oxygen occurs at predisposed sites with bridging angles in the 125 degrees-135 degrees range, well below the bulk silica mean of approximately 150 degrees, consistent with various ab initio calculations, and that a small fraction of such sites are present in all ring sizes. The energy differences between dry and protonated bridges at various angles observed in the simulations coincide completely with quantum calculations over the entire range of bridging angles encountered in the vitreous silica surface. Those sites with bridging angles near 130 degrees support adsorbed protons more stably, resulting in the proton remaining adsorbed for longer periods of time. Vitreous silica has the necessary distribution of angular strain over all ring sizes to allow protons to adsorb onto bridging oxygen at the surface, forming acidic surface groups that serve as ideal intermediate steps in proton transfer near the surface. In addition to hydronium formation and water-assisted proton transfer in the liquid, protons can rapidly move across the water-silica interface via strained bridges that are predisposed to transient proton adsorption. Thus, an excess proton at any given location on a silica surface can move by either water-assisted or strained bridge-assisted diffusion depending on the local environment. The result of this would be net migration that is faster than it would be if only one mechanism is possible. These simulation results indicate the importance of performing large size and time scale simulations of the structurally heterogeneous vitreous silica exposed to water to describe proton transport at the interface between water and the silica surface.

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