A Caltech Library Service

Brønsted basicity of the air–water interface

Mishra, Himanshu and Enami, Shinichi and Nielsen, Robert J. and Stewart, Logan A. and Hoffmann, Michael R. and Goddard, William A., III and Colussi, Agustín J. (2012) Brønsted basicity of the air–water interface. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 109 (46). pp. 18679-18683. ISSN 0027-8424. PMCID PMC3503180. doi:10.1073/pnas.1209307109.

PDF - Published Version
See Usage Policy.

PDF - Supplemental Material
See Usage Policy.


Use this Persistent URL to link to this item:


Differences in the extent of protonation of functional groups lying on either side of water–hydrophobe interfaces are deemed essential to enzymatic catalysis, molecular recognition, bioenergetic transduction, and atmospheric aerosol–gas exchanges. The sign and range of such differences, however, remain conjectural. Herein we report experiments showing that gaseous carboxylic acids RCOOH(g) begin to deprotonate on the surface of water significantly more acidic than that supporting the dissociation of dissolved acids RCOOH(aq). Thermodynamic analysis indicates that > 6 H_(2)O molecules must participate in the deprotonation of RCOOH(g) on water, but quantum mechanical calculations on a model air–water interface predict that such event is hindered by a significant kinetic barrier unless OH− ions are present therein. Thus, by detecting RCOO− we demonstrate the presence of OH− on the aerial side of on pH > 2 water exposed to RCOOH(g). Furthermore, because in similar experiments the base (Me)_(3)N(g) is protonated only on pH < 4 water, we infer that the outer surface of water is Brønsted neutral at pH ∼3 (rather than at pH 7 as bulk water), a value that matches the isoelectric point of bubbles and oil droplets in independent electrophoretic experiments. The OH− densities sensed by RCOOH(g) on the aerial surface of water, however, are considerably smaller than those at the (>1 nm) deeper shear planes probed in electrophoresis, thereby implying the existence of OH− gradients in the interfacial region. This fact could account for the weak OH− signals detected by surface-specific spectroscopies.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription DOIArticle CentralArticle
Enami, Shinichi0000-0002-2790-7361
Nielsen, Robert J.0000-0002-7962-0186
Hoffmann, Michael R.0000-0001-6495-1946
Goddard, William A., III0000-0003-0097-5716
Colussi, Agustín J.0000-0002-3400-4101
Additional Information:© 2012 National Academy of Sciences. Edited by Michael L. Klein, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA, and approved October 2, 2012 (received for review June 1, 2012). Published online before print October 29, 2012. Our research is supported by Japan Society for the Promotion of Sciences Postdoctoral Fellowship for Research Abroad (to S.E.) and National Science Foundation Grant AGS-964842a (to M.R.H.). Author contributions: H.M., S.E., R.J.N., and L.A.S. performed research; H.M., S.E., R.J.N., L.A.S., W.A.G, and A.J.C. analyzed data; M.R.H. contributed new reagents/analytic tools; A.J.C. designed research; and A.J.C. wrote the paper.
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS)UNSPECIFIED
Subject Keywords:gas–liquid reactions; surface potential; water surface acidity; interfacial proton transfer
Issue or Number:46
PubMed Central ID:PMC3503180
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20130103-133136391
Persistent URL:
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:36149
Deposited By: Jason Perez
Deposited On:04 Jan 2013 19:10
Last Modified:09 Nov 2021 23:20

Repository Staff Only: item control page