Attraction between hydrated hydrophilic surfaces

M. Kanduč, E. Schneck, and R. R. Netz, Chemical Physics Letters, vol. 610–611, pp. 375–380

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According to common knowledge, hydrophilic surfaces repel via hydration forces while hydrophobic surfaces attract, but mounting experimental evidence suggests that also hydrophilic surfaces can attract. Using all-atom molecular dynamics simulations at prescribed water chemical potential we study the crossover from hydration repulsion to hydrophobic attraction for planar polar surfaces of varying stiffness and hydrogen-bonding capability. Rescaling the partial charges of the polar surface groups, we cover the complete spectrum from very hydrophobic surfaces (characterized by contact angles θ ≃ 135°) to hydrophilic surfaces exhibiting complete wetting (θ = 0°). Indeed, for a finite range θadh < θ < 90°, we find a regime where hydrophilic surfaces attract at sub-nanometer separation and stably adhere without intervening water. The adhesive contact angle θadh depends on surface type and lies in the range 65° < θadh < 80°, in good agreement with experiments. Analysis of the total number of hydrogen bonds (HBs) formed by water and surface groups rationalizes this crossover between hydration repulsion and hydrophilic attraction in terms of a subtle balance: Highly polar surfaces repel because of strongly bound hydration water, less polar hydrophilic surfaces attract because water–water HBs are preferred over surface–water HBs. Such solvent reorganization forces presumably underlie also other important phenomena, such as selective ion adsorption to interfaces as well as ion pair formation. doi

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