The Surface of Electrolyte Solutions is Stratified


The distribution of ions at the air/water interface plays a decisive role in many natural processes. It is generally understood that polarizable ions with low charge density are surface-active, implying they sit on top of the water surface. Here, we revise this established hypothesis by combining surface-specific heterodyne-detected vibrational sum-frequency generation with neural network-assisted ab initio molecular dynamics simulations. Our results directly demonstrate that ions in typical electrolyte solutions are, in fact, located in a subsurface region leading to a stratification of such interfaces into two distinctive water layers. The outermost surface is ion-depleted, and the sub-surface layer is ion-enriched. As a result, an effective liquid/liquid interface buried a few Å inside the solution emerges, creating a second water/electrolyte interface, in addition to the outermost air/water interface.

Yair Litman
Yair Litman
Research Fellow