Electrolytes in regimes of strong confinement: surface charge modulations, osmotic equilibrium and electroneutrality
In the present work, we study an electrolyte solution confined between planar surfaces with nanopatterned charged domains, which has been connected to a bulk ionic reservoir. The system is investigated through an improved Monte Carlo (MC) simulation method, suitable for simulation of electrolytes in the presence of modulated surface charge distributions. We also employ a linear approach in the spirit of the classical Debye–Hückel approximation, which allows one to obtain explicit expressions for the averaged potentials, ionic profiles, effective surface interactions and the net ionic charge confined between the walls. Emphasis is placed on the limit of strongly confined electrolytes, in which case local electroneutrality in the inter-surface space might not be fulfilled. In order to access the effects of such a lack of local charge neutrality on the ion-induced interactions between surfaces with modulated charge domains, we consider two distinct model systems for the confined electrolyte: one in which a salt reservoir is explicitly taken into account via the osmotic equilibrium with an electrolyte of fixed bulk concentration, and a second one in which the equilibrium with a charge neutral ionic reservoir is implicitly considered. While in the former case the osmotic ion exchange might lead to non-vanishing net charges, in the latter model charge neutrality is enforced through the appearance of an implicit Donnan potential across the charged interfaces. A strong dependence of the ion-induced surface interactions on the employed model system is observed at all surface separations. These findings strongly suggest that due care is to be taken while choosing among different scenarios to describe the ion exchange in electrolytes confined between charged surfaces, even in cases when the monopole (non zero net charge) surface contributions are absent.