Obtaining Consistent Free Energies for Ion Binding at Surfaces from Solution: Pathways versus Alchemy for Determining Kink Site Stability

A Silvestri and P Raiteri and JD Gale, JOURNAL OF CHEMICAL THEORY AND COMPUTATION (2022).

DOI: 10.1021/acs.jctc.2c00787

Ion incorporation or removal from a solid at the interface with solution is a fundamental part of crystal growth. Despite this, there have been few quantitative determinations of the thermodynamics for such processes from atomistic molecular dynamics due to the associated technical challenges. In this study, we compute the free energies for ion removal from kink sites at the interface between NaCl and water as an illustrative example. To examine the influence of the free energy technique used, we compare methods that follow an explicit pathway for dissolution with those that focus on the thermodynamics of the initial and final states using metadynamics and free energy perturbation, respectively. While the initial results of the two approaches are found to be completely different, it is demonstrated that the thermodynamics can be reconciled with appropriate corrections for the standard states, thus illustrating the need for caution in interpreting raw free energy curves for ion binding as widely found in the literature. In addition, a new efficient approach is introduced to correct for the system size dependence of kink site energies both due to the periodic interaction of charges in an inhomogeneous dielectric system and due to the dipolar interactions between pairs of kinks along a row. Ultimately, it is shown that with suitable care, both classes of free energy techniques are capable of producing kink site stabilities that are consistent with the solubility of the underlying bulk solid. However, the precise values for individual kink sites exhibit a small systematic offset, which can be ascribed to the contribution of the interfacial potential to the pathway-based results. For the case of NaCl, the free energies of the kink sites relative to a 1 M aqueous solution for Na+ and Cl- are found to be surprisingly different and of opposite sign, despite the ions having very similar hydration free energies.

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