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Author ORCID ID is 000000028579449X
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  1. The transport of protons through channels in complex environments is important in biology and materials science. In this work, we use multistate empirical valence bond simulations to study proton transport within a well-defined bilayer pore in a lamellar L β phase lyotropic liquid crystal (LLC). The LLC is formed from the self-assembly of dicarboxylate gemini surfactants in water, and a bilayer-spanning pore of radius of approximately 3–5 Å results from the uneven partitioning of surfactants between the two leaflets of the lamella. Local proton diffusion within the pore is significantly faster than diffusion at the bilayer surface, which is duemore » to the greater hydrophobicity of the surfactant/water interface within the pore. Proton diffusion proceeds by surface transport along exposed hydrophobic pockets at the surfactant/water interface and depends on the continuity of hydronium–water hydrogen bond networks. At the bilayer surface, there is a reduced fraction of the “Zundel” intermediates that are central to the Grotthuss transport mechanism, whereas the fraction of these species within the bilayer pore is similar to that in bulk water. Our results demonstrate that the chemical nature of the confining interface, in addition to confinement length scale, is an important determiner of local proton transport in nanoconfined aqueous environments.« less
  2. Bilayers composed of lipid or surfactant molecules are central to biological membranes and lamellar lyotropic liquid crystalline (LLC) phases. Common to these systems are phases that exhibit either ordered or disordered packing of the hydrophobic tails. In this work, we study the impact of surfactant ordering, i.e., disordered L α and ordered L β LLC phases, on the dynamics of water and sodium ions in the lamellar phases of dicarboxylate gemini surfactants. We study the different phases at identical hydration levels by changing the length of the hydrophobic tails; surfactants with shorter tails form L α phases and those withmore » longer tails form L β phases. We find that the L α phases exhibit lower density and greater compressibility than the L β phases, with a hydration-dependent headgroup surface area. These structural differences significantly affect the relative dynamic properties of the phases, primarily the mobility of the surfactant molecules tangential to the bilayer surface, as well as the rates of water and ion diffusion. We find ~20–50% faster water diffusion in the L α phases compared to the L β phases, with the differences most pronounced at low hydration. This coupling between water dynamics and surfactant mobility is verified using additional simulations in which the surfactant tails are frozen. Our study indicates that gemini surfactant LLCs provide an important prototypical system for characterizing properties shared with more complex biological lipid membranes.« less
  3. We report the discovery of an ionic small molecule surfactant that undergoes water-drive self- assembly into quasispherical micelles, which pack into the first lyotropic liquid crystalline Frank–Kasper σ phase. Small-angle X-ray scattering studies indicate that this unexpected, low-symmetry phase is characterized by a tetragonal unit cell, in which 30 sub-2 nm micelles of five discrete types are arranged into a tetrahedral close packing with exceptional translational order. Varying the relative amounts of surfactant and water in these lyotropic phases enables formation of a Frank–Kasper A15 sphere packing and a more common body-centered cubic structure. MD simulations reveal that the symmetrymore » breaking that drives the selection of the σ and A15 phases arises from a delicate interplay between the drive to maintain local spherical particle symmetry and the maximization of electrostatic cohesion between the soft micellar particles.« less
  4. Gemini surfactants comprise two single-tailed surfactants connected by a linker at or near the hydrophilic headgroup. They display a variety of water concentration-dependent lyotropic liquid crystal (LLC) morphologies that are sensitive to surfactant molecular structure, and na- ture of the headgroups and counterions. Recently, an interesting dependence of the aqueous phase behavior on the length of the linker has been discovered; odd-numbered linker length surfactants exhibit characteristically different phase diagrams than even-numbered linker sur- factants. In this work, we investigate this “odd/even effect” using computer simulations, focusing on experimentally studied gemini dicarboxylates with Na + counterions, 7 non-terminal carbon atomsmore » in the tails, and either 3, 4, 5, or 6 carbon atoms in the linker (denoted Na-73, Na-74, Na-75, and Na-76 respectively). We find that the relative electrostatic repulsion be- tween headgroups in the different morphologies is correlated with qualitative features of the experimental phase diagrams, predicting destabilization of hexagonal phases as the cylinders pack close together at low water content. Significant differences in the relative headgroup ori- entations of Na-74 and Na-76 compared to Na-73 and Na-75 surfactants lead to differences in linker-linker packing, and long-range headgroup/headgroup electrostatic repulsion, which affects the delicate electrostatic balance between hexagonal and gyroid phases. Finally, much of the fundamental insight presented in this work is enabled by the ability to computationally construct and analyze metastable phases that are not observable in experiments.« less
  5. The dynamics of water confined to nanometer-sized domains is important in a variety of applications ranging from proton exchange membranes to crowding effects in biophysics. In this work we study the dynamics of water in gemini surfactant-based lyotropic liquid crystals (LLCs) using molecular dynamics simulations. These systems have well characterized morphologies, e.g., hexagonal, gyroid, and lamellar, and the surfaces of the confining regions can be controlled by modifying the headgroup of the surfactants. This allows one to study the effect of topology, functionalization, and interfacial curvature on the dynamics of confined water. Through analysis of the translational diffusion and rotationalmore » relaxation we conclude that the hydration level and resulting confinement lengthscale is the predominate determiner of the rates of water dynamics, and other effects, namely surface functionality and curvature, are largely secondary. In conclusion, this novel analysis of the water dynamics in these LLC systems provides an important comparison for previous studies of water dynamics in lipid bilayers and reverse micelles.« less
  6. The manuscript by Ballal et al.(Ref 1) presents an interesting study demonstrating the inability of popular force fields with standard combination rules to accurately describe water/alkane interactions. The authors find that the Lorentz-Berthelot combination rules on the SPC/E water and TraPPE alkane potentials give a cross interaction that fails to predict the (low-water content) water solubility in various alkanes. Realizing that both explicit polarization as well as the static octupole moment of methane are missing in these potentials, the authors examine the effect of these terms, but are still unable to resolve the discrepancy. They conclude with the statement thatmore » “the research community lacks a complete picture of water-alkane interactions at the molecular level.« less
  7. The diffusion of protons in self-assembled systems is potentially important for the design of efficient proton exchange membranes. In this work, we study proton dynamics in a low-water content, lamellar phase of an sodium-carboxylate gemini surfactant/water system using computer simulations. The hopping of protons via the Grotthuss mechanism is explicity allowed through the multi-state empirical valence bond (MS-EVB) method. We find that the hydronium ion is trapped on the hydrophobic side of the surfactant-water interface, and proton diffusion then proceeds by hopping between surface sites. The importance of hydrophobic traps is surprising, because one would expect the hydronium ions tomore » be trapped at the charged head-groups. Finally, the physics illustrated in this system should be relevant to the proton dynamics in other amphiphilic membrane systems, whenever there exists exposed hydrophobic surface regions.« less
  8. The properties of water under confinement are of practical and fundamental interest. Here in this work we study the properties of water in the self-assembled lyotropic phases of gemini surfactants with a focus on testing the standard analysis of quasi-elastic neutron scattering (QENS) experiments. In QENS experiments the dynamic structure factor is measured and fit to models to extract the translational diffusion constant, D T , and rotational relaxation time, τ R. We test this procedure by using simulation results for the dynamic structure factor, extracting the dynamic parameters from the fit as is typically done in experiments, and comparingmore » the values to those directly measured in the simulations. We find that the decoupling approximation, where the intermediate scattering function is assumed to be a product of translational and rotational contributions, is quite accurate. The jump-diffusion and isotropic rotation models, however, are not accurate when the degree of confinement is high. In particular, the exponential approximations for the intermediate scattering function fail for highly confined water and the values of D T and τ R can differ from the measured value by as much as a factor of two. Other models have more fit parameters, however, and with the range of energies and wave-vectors accessible to QENS, the typical analysis appears to be the best choice. In the most confined lamellar phase, the dynamics are sufficiently slow that QENS does not access a large enough time scale and neutron spin echo measurements would be a valuable technique in addition to QENS.« less

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