Cavity formation at metal-water interfaces

T Eggert and NG Hörmann and K Reuter, JOURNAL OF CHEMICAL PHYSICS, 159, 194702 (2023).

DOI: 10.1063/5.0167406

The free energy cost of forming a cavity in a solvent is a fundamental concept in rationalizing the solvation of molecules and ions. A detailed understanding of the factors governing cavity formation in bulk solutions has inter alia enabled the formulation of models that account for this contribution in coarse-grained implicit solvation methods. Here, we employ classical molecular dynamics simulations and multistate Bennett acceptance ratio free energy sampling to systematically study cavity formation at a wide range of metal-water interfaces. We demonstrate that the obtained size- and position-dependence of cavitation energies can be fully rationalized by a geometric Gibbs model, which considers that the creation of the metal-cavity interface necessarily involves the removal of interfacial solvent. This so-called competitive adsorption effect introduces a substrate dependence to the interfacial cavity formation energy that is missed in existing bulk cavitation models. Using expressions from scaled particle theory, this substrate dependence is quantitatively reproduced by the Gibbs model through simple linear relations with the adsorption energy of a single water molecule. Besides providing a better general understanding of interfacial solvation, this paves the way for the derivation and efficient parametrization of more accurate interface-aware implicit solvation models needed for reliable high-throughput calculations toward improved electrocatalysts.

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