Hydrophobicity of molecular-scale textured surfaces: The case of zeolitic imidazolate frameworks, an atomistic perspective

A Le Donne and JD Littlefair and M Tortora and S Merchiori and L Bartolomé and Y Grosu and S Meloni, JOURNAL OF CHEMICAL PHYSICS, 159, 184709 (2023).

DOI: 10.1063/5.0173110

Hydrophobicity has proven fundamental in an inexhaustible amount of everyday applications. Material hydrophobicity is determined by chemical composition and geometrical characteristics of its macroscopic surface. Surface roughness or texturing enhances intrinsic hydrophilic or hydrophobic characteristics of a material. Here we consider crystalline surfaces presenting molecular-scale texturing typical of crystalline porous materials, e.g., metal-organic frameworks. In particular, we investigate one such material with remarkable hydrophobic qualities, ZIF-8. We show that ZIF-8 hydrophobicity is driven not only by its chemical composition but also its sub-nanoscale surface corrugations, a physical enhancement rare amongst hydrophobes. Studying ZIF-8's hydrophobic properties is challenging as experimentally it is difficult to distinguish between the materials' and the macroscopic corrugations' contributions to the hydrophobicity. The computational contact angle determination is also difficult as the standard "geometric" technique of liquid nanodroplet deposition is prone to many artifacts. Here, we characterise ZIF-8 hydrophobicity via: (i) the "geometric" approach and (ii) the "energetic" method, utilising the Young-Dupr & eacute; formula and computationally determining the liquid-solid adhesion energy. Both approaches reveal nanoscale Wenzel-like bathing of the corrugated surface. Moreover, we illustrate the importance of surface linker termination in ZIF-8 hydrophobicity, which reduces when varied from sp(3) N to sp(2) N termination. We also consider halogenated analogues of the methyl-imidazole linker, which promote the transition from nanoWenzel-like to nanoCassie-Baxter-like states, further enhancing surface hydrophobicity. Present results reveal the complex interface physics and chemistry between water and complex porous, molecular crystalline surfaces, providing a hint to tune their hydrophobicity.

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