Probing the protic ionic liquid surface using X-ray reflectivity

Deborah Wakeham, Andrew Nelson, Gregory G. Warr, Rob Atkin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)


The structure of the free liquid surface of three protic ionic liquids, ethylammonium nitrate (EAN), propylammonium nitrate (PAN), and ethylammonium formate (EAF), has been elucidated using X-ray reflectivity. The results show all three liquids have an extended interfacial region, spanning at least five ion pairs, which can be divided into two parts. Adjacent to the gas phase are aggregates consisting of multiple cations and anions. Below this are layers oriented parallel to the macroscopic surface that are alternately enriched and depleted in cation alkyl chains and polar domains of cation ammonium groups and their anions, gradually decaying to the isotropic sponge-like bulk structure. The most pronounced layering is observed for PAN, driven by strong solvophobic interactions, while reduced hydrogen bonding in EAF results in the least structured and least extensive interfacial region.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)20828-20835
Number of pages8
JournalPhysical Chemistry Chemical Physics
Issue number46
Publication statusPublished - 14 Dec 2011
Externally publishedYes


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