Studies of aqueous interfaces and of the behavior of ions therein have been profiting from a recent remarkable progress in surface selective spectroscopies, as well as from developments in molecular simulations. Here, we summarize and place in context our investigations of ions at aqueous interfaces employing molecular dynamics simulations and electronic structure methods, performed in close contact with experiment. For the simplest of these interfaces, i.e. the open water surface, we demonstrate that the traditional picture of an ion-free surface is not valid for large, soft (polarizable) ions such as the heavier halides. Both simulations and spectroscopic measurements indicate that these ions can be present and even enhanced at surface of water. In addition we show that the ionic product of water exhibits a peculiar surface behavior with hydronium but not hydroxide accumulating at the air/water and alkane/water interfaces. This result is supported by surface-selective spectroscopic experiments and surface tension measurements. However, it contradicts the interpretation of electrophoretic and titration experiments in terms of strong surface adsorption of hydroxide; an issue which is further discussed here. The applicability of the observed behavior of ions at the water surface to investigations of their affinity for the interface between proteins and aqueous solutions is explored. Simulations show that for alkali cations the dominant mechanism of specific interactions with the surface of hydrated proteins is via ion pairing with negatively charged amino acid residues and with the backbone amide groups. As far as halide anions are concerned, the lighter ones tend to pair with positively charged amino acid residues, while heavier halides exhibit affinity to the amide group and to non-polar protein patches, the latter resembling their behavior at the air/water interface. These findings, together with results for more complex molecular ions, allow us to formulate a local model of interactions of ions with proteins with the aim to rationalize at the molecular level ion-specific Hofmeister effects, e.g. the salting out of proteins.
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