We describe an experimental method to probe the adsorption of water at the surface of isolated, substrate-free TiO2 nanoparticles (NPs) based on soft X-ray spectroscopy in the gas phase using synchrotron radiation. To understand the interfacial properties between water and TiO2 surface, a water shell was adsorbed at the surface of TiO2 NPs. We used two different ways to control the hydration level of the NPs: in the first scheme, initially solvated NPs were dried and in the second one, dry NPs generated thanks to a commercial aerosol generator were exposed to water vapor. XPS was used to identify the signature of the water layer shell on the surface of the free TiO2 NPs and made it possible to follow the evolution of their hydration state. The results obtained allow the establishment of a qualitative determination of isolated NPs surface states, as well as to unravel water adsorption mechanisms. This method appears to be a unique approach to investigate the interface between an isolated nano-object and a solvent over-layer, paving the way towards new investigation methods in heterogeneous catalysis on nanomaterials.
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