Strong coupling electrostatics for randomly charged surfaces: antifragility and effective interactions
We study the effective interaction mediated by strongly coupled Coulomb fluids between dielectric surfaces carrying quenched, random monopolar charges with equal mean and variance, both when the Coulomb fluid consists only of mobile multivalent counterions and when it consists of an asymmetric ionic mixture containing multivalent and monovalent (salt) ions in equilibrium with an aqueous bulk reservoir. We analyze the consequences that follow from the interplay between surface charge disorder, dielectric and salt image effects, and the strong electrostatic coupling that results from multivalent counterions on the distribution of these ions and the effective interaction pressure they mediate between the surfaces. In a dielectrically homogeneous system, we show that the multivalent counterions are attracted towards the surfaces with a singular, disorder-induced potential that diverges logarithmically on approach to the surfaces, creating a singular but integrable counterion density profile that exhibits an algebraic divergence at the surfaces with an exponent that depends on the surface charge (disorder) variance. This effect drives the system towards a state of lower thermal ‘disorder’, one that can be described by a renormalized temperature, exhibiting thus a remarkable antifragility. In the presence of an interfacial dielectric discontinuity, the singular behavior of counterion density at the surfaces is removed but multivalent counterions are still accumulated much more strongly close to randomly charged surfaces as compared with uniformly charged ones. The interaction pressure acting on the surfaces displays in general a highly non-monotonic behavior as a function of the inter-surface separation with a prominent regime of attraction at small to intermediate separations. This attraction is caused directly by the combined effects from charge disorder and strong coupling electrostatics of multivalent counterions, which dominate the surface–surface repulsion due to the (equal) mean charges on the two surfaces and the osmotic pressure of monovalent ions residing between them. These effects can be quite significant even with a small degree of surface charge disorder relative to the mean surface charge. The strong coupling, disorder-induced attraction is typically much stronger than the van der Waals interaction between the surfaces, especially within a range of several nanometers for the inter-surface separation, where such effects are predicted to be most pronounced.