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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 15, 2023
  2. Predicting the asymmetric structure and dynamics of solvated hydroxide and hydronium in water from ab initio molecular dynamics (AIMD) has been a challenging task. The difficulty mainly comes from a lack of accurate and efficient exchange–correlation functional in elucidating the amphiphilic nature and the ubiquitous proton transfer behaviors of the two ions. By adopting the strongly constrained and appropriately normed (SCAN) meta-generalized gradient approximation functional in AIMD simulations, we systematically examine the amphiphilic properties, the solvation structures, the electronic structures, and the dynamic properties of the two water ions. In particular, we compare these results to those predicted by the PBE0-TS functional, which is an accurate yet computationally more expensive exchange–correlation functional. We demonstrate that the general-purpose SCAN functional provides a reliable choice for describing the two water ions. Specifically, in the SCAN picture of water ions, the appearance of the fourth and fifth hydrogen bonds near hydroxide stabilizes the pot-like shape solvation structure and suppresses the structural diffusion, while the hydronium stably donates three hydrogen bonds to its neighbors. We apply a detailed analysis of the proton transfer mechanism of the two ions and find the two ions exhibit substantially different proton transfer patterns. Our AIMD simulations indicate that hydroxide diffuses more slowly than hydronium in water, which is consistent with the experimental results. 
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  3. X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) is a powerful experimental technique to probe the local order in materials with core electron excitations. Experimental interpretation requires supporting theoretical calculations. For water, these calculations are very demanding and, to date, could only be done with major approximations that limited the accuracy of the calculated spectra. This prompted an intense debate on whether a substantial revision of the standard picture of tetrahedrally bonded water was necessary to improve the agreement of theory and experiment. Here, we report a first-principles calculation of the XAS of water that avoids the approximations of prior work, thanks to recent advances in electron excitation theory. The calculated XAS spectra, and their variation with changes of temperature and/or with isotope substitution, are in good quantitative agreement with experiments. The approach requires accurate quasiparticle wave functions beyond density functional theory approximations, accounts for the dynamics of quasiparticles, and includes dynamic screening as well as renormalization effects due to the continuum of valence-level excitations. The three features observed in the experimental spectra are unambiguously attributed to excitonic effects. The preedge feature is associated with a bound intramolecular exciton, the main-edge feature is associated with an exciton localized within the coordination shell of the excited molecule, and the postedge feature is delocalized over more distant neighbors, as expected for a resonant state. The three features probe the local order at short, intermediate, and longer range relative to the excited molecule. The calculated spectra are fully consistent with a standard tetrahedral picture of water. 
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  4. Abstract

    Salt water is ubiquitous, playing crucial roles in geological and physiological processes. Despite centuries of investigations, whether or not water’s structure is drastically changed by dissolved ions is still debated. Based on density functional theory, we employ machine learning based molecular dynamics to model sodium chloride, potassium chloride, and sodium bromide solutions at different concentrations. The resulting reciprocal-space structure factors agree quantitatively with neutron diffraction data. Here we provide clear evidence that the ions in salt water do not distort the structure of water in the same way as neat water responds to elevated pressure. Rather, the computed structural changes are restricted to the ionic first solvation shells intruding into the hydrogen bond network, beyond which the oxygen radial-distribution function does not undergo major change relative to neat water. Our findings suggest that the widely cited pressure-like effect on the solvent in Hofmeister series ionic solutions should be carefully revisited.

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