Reactive molecular dynamics simulations of hydration shells surrounding spherical TiO2 nanoparticles: implications for proton-transfer reactions†
In many potential applications, nanoparticles are typically in an aqueous medium. This has strong influence on the stability, optical properties and reactivity, in particular for their functionalization. Therefore, the understanding of the chemistry at the interface between the solvent and the nanoparticle is of utmost importance. In this work, we present a comparative ReaxFF reactive molecular dynamics investigation on spherical TiO2 nanoparticles (NSs) of realistic size, with diameters from 2.2 to 4.4 nm, immersed in a large drop of bulk water. After force field validation for its use for a curved anatase TiO2 surface/water interface, we performed several simulations of the TiO2 nanoparticles of increasing size in a water drop. We found that water can be adsorbed jointly in a molecular and dissociative way on the surface. A Langmuir isotherm indicating an adsorption/desorption mechanism of water on the NS is observed. Regarding the dissociative adsorption, atomistic details reveal two different mechanisms, depending on the water concentration around the NS. At low coverage, the first mechanism involves direct dissociation of a single water molecule, whereas, at higher water coverage, the second mechanism is a proton transfer reaction involving two water molecules, also known as Grotthuss-like mechanism. Thermal annealing simulations show that several water molecules remain on the surface in agreement with the experimental reports. The capacity of adsorption is higher for the 2.2 and 3.0 nm NSs than for the 4.4 nm NS. Finally, a comparative investigation with flat surfaces indicates that NSs present a higher water adsorption capacity (undissociated and dissociated) than flat surfaces, which can be rationalized considering that NSs present many more low-coordinated Ti atoms available for water adsorption.