Adsorption and Aggregation at Silica/Methanol Interfaces: The Role of Solute Structure

Second harmonic generation (SHG) and time-resolved, total internal reflection fluorescence (TR-TIRF) spectroscopy were used to examine the adsorption, solvation, and aggregation of a coumarin solute, Coumarin 152 (C152), at the silica/methanol interface. Experiments were performed as a function of bulk C152 concentration with SHG data providing information about relative surface coverage and ground state solvation environment. TR-TIRF data measured emission lifetimes of C152 adsorbed to the silica/methanol interface. SHG spectra show strong resonance enhancement at 365 nm, a result that is blue-shifted considerably from C152’s electronic excitation of ∼400 nm in bulk methanol. Given C152’s solvatochromic behavior, this observation implies that C152 adsorbed to the silica/methanol interface experiences a local dielectric environment that is significantly less polar than in bulk methanol. TR-TIRF decays at sub-micromolar bulk concentrations were fit to two lifetimes: one assigned to C152 emission in bulk methanol (0.9 ns) and a longer lifetime assigned to contributions from adsorbed C152 (∼4 ns). The longer lifetime is similar to C152 in alkanes, a result that is consistent with SHG data. Isothermal data from SHG experiments show unusual behavior as bulk C152 concentration increases. Instead of approaching an asymptotic limit signifying monolayer coverage, the SHG response rises at the lowest C152 concentrations and then decreases dramatically, suggesting the onset of aggregate formation. Changes in the TR-TIRF emission behavior of C152 at higher C152 bulk concentrations support this hypothesis. These findings are interpreted in terms of C152’s ability to self-associate, and the energetics of dimer formation are explored using ab initio calculations and polarizable continuum models.