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  1. Abstract

    Solid–water interfaces are crucial for clean water, conventional and renewable energy, and effective nuclear waste management. However, reflecting the complexity of reactive interfaces in continuum-scale models is a challenge, leading to oversimplified representations that often fail to predict real-world behavior. This is because these models use fixed parameters derived by averaging across a wide physicochemical range observed at the molecular scale. Recent studies have revealed the stochastic nature of molecular-level surface sites that define a variety of reaction mechanisms, rates, and products even across a single surface. To bridge the molecular knowledge and predictive continuum-scale models, we propose to represent surface properties with probability distributions rather than with discrete constant values derived by averaging across a heterogeneous surface. This conceptual shift in continuum-scale modeling requires exponentially rising computational power. By incorporating our molecular-scale understanding of solid–water interfaces into continuum-scale models we can pave the way for next generation critical technologies and novel environmental solutions.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 1, 2025
  2. Free, publicly-accessible full text available September 26, 2024
  3. Interfacial reactions drive all elemental cycling on Earth and play pivotal roles in human activities such as agriculture, water purification, energy production and storage, environmental contaminant remediation, and nuclear waste repository management. The onset of the 21st century marked the beginning of a more detailed understanding of mineral aqueous interfaces enabled by advances in techniques that use tunable high-flux focused ultrafast laser and X-ray sources to provide near-atomic measurement resolution, as well as by nano-fabrication approaches that enable transmission electron microscopy in a liquid cell. This leap into atomic- and nm-scale measurements has uncovered scale-dependent phenomena whose reaction thermodynamics, kinetics, and pathways deviate from previous observations made on larger systems. A second key advance is new experimental evidence for what scientists hypothesized but could not test previously: Namely, interfacial chemical reactions are frequently driven by “anomalies” or “non-idealities”, such as defects, nanoconfinement, and other non-typical chemical structures. Third, progress in computational chemistry have yielded new insights that allow a move beyond simple schematics leading to a molecular model of these complex interfaces. In combination with surface-sensitive measurements, we have gained knowledge of the interfacial structure and dynamics, including the underlying solid surface and the immediately adjacent water and aqueous ions, enabling a better definition of what constitutes the oxide- and silicate-water interfaces. This critical review discusses how science progresses from understanding ideal solid-water interfaces to more realistic systems, focusing on accomplishments in the last 20 years and identifying challenges and future opportunities for the community to address. We anticipate that the next 20 years will focus on understanding and predicting dynamic transient and reactive structures over greater spatial and temporal ranges, as well as systems of greater structural and chemical complexity. Closer collaborations of theoretical and experimental experts across disciplines will continue to be critical to achieving this great aspiration. 
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