Interfacial electric fields play crucial roles in electrochemistry, catalysis, and solar energy conversion. Understanding of the interfacial electric field effects has been hindered by the lack of a direct spectroscopic method to probe of the interfacial field at the molecular level. Here, we report the characterization of the field and interfacial structure at Au/diisocyanide/aqueous electrolyte interfaces, using a combination of in situ electrochemical vibrational sum frequency generation (SFG) spectroscopy, density functional theory (DFT) calculations, and molecular dynamics (MD) simulations. For 1,4-phenylene diisocyanide (PDI), 4,4′-biphenyl diisocyanide (BPDI), and 4,4″-p-terphenyl diisocyanide (TPDI), our results reveal that the frequency of the gold-bound NC stretch mode of the diisocyanide self-assembled monolayer (SAM) increases linearly with the applied potential, suggesting that SFG can be an in situ probe of the strength of the electric field at electrode/electrolyte interfaces. Using DFT-computed Stark tuning rates of model complexes, the electric field strength at the metal/SAM/electrolyte interfaces is estimated to be 108-109 V/m. The linear dependence of the vibrational frequency (and field) with applied potential is consistent with an electrochemical double-layer structure that consists of a Helmholtz layer in contact with a diffused layer. The Helmholtz layer thickness is approximately the same as the molecular length for PDI, suggesting a well-ordered SAM with negligible electrolyte penetration. For BPDI and TPDI, we found that the Helmholtz layer is thinner than the monolayer of molecular adsorbates, indicating that the electrolyte percolates into the SAM, as shown by molecular dynamics simulations of the Au/PDI/electrolyte interface. The reported analysis demonstrates that a combination of in situ SFG probes and computational modeling provides a powerful approach to elucidate the structure of electrochemical interfaces at the detailed molecular level.
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