Published: Oct. 25, 2020

Daniel J. Aschaffenburg, Seiji Kawasaki, Chaitanya Das Pemmaraju, & Tanja Cuk*

Journal of Physical Chemistry C 2020, 124, 21407. DOI: 10.1021/acs.jpcc.0c05195

Understanding the equilibrium conditions at the metal oxide/aqueous interface is a key component toward visualizing the structure of water in confined environments and differentiating the catalytic activity of transition-metal oxides. While ambient pressure X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (AP-XPS) has been the primary technique to investigate the formation of a hydration layer on many surfaces, results over the extended relative humidity (RH) range accessible experimentally have not been compared quantitatively to theoretical predictions. With the use of first-principles theoretical methods and accumulated knowledge of AP-XPS spectral analysis, we do so here for a model surface, TiO2-terminated undoped SrTiO3(100) (STO). The measured distribution of OH and H2O coverages from vacuum up to the first hydration layer is in good agreement with a static density functional theory (DFT) configuration involving partial dissociation of H2O per Ti-atom mediated by H-bonding. Furthermore, ab initio molecular dynamics (AIMD) simulations at 300 K for select coverages (1/4, 1/2, and 1 ML) test the role of fluctuations and entropy in the competition between adsorption and dissociation with coverage. This comparison between theory and experiment for OH and H2O coverages on STO provides a foundation for a more quantitative assessment of the first hydration layer and associated competition between adsorption, dissociation, and H-bonding on transition-metal oxide surfaces.