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Unveiling the Amphiphilic Nature of TMAO by Vibrational Sum Frequency Generation Spectroscopy

Ohto, Tatsuhiko, Backus, Ellen H. G., Mizukami, Wataru, Hunger, Johannes, Bonn, Mischa, Nagata, Yuki
The Journal of Physical Chemistry C 2016 v.120 no.31 pp. 17435-17443
air, hydrogen bonding, hydrophilicity, hydrophobicity, moieties, molecular dynamics, spectroscopy, surfactants
By combining heterodyne-detected sum-frequency generation (SFG) spectroscopy, ab initio molecular dynamics (AIMD) simulation, and a post-vibrational self-consistent field (VSCF) approach, we reveal the orientation and surface activity of the amphiphile trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO) at the water/air interface. Both measured and simulated C–H stretch SFG spectra show a strong negative and a weak positive peak. We attribute these peaks to the symmetric stretch mode/Fermi resonance and antisymmetric in-plane mode of the methyl group, respectively, based on the post-VSCF calculation. These positive and negative features evidence that the methyl groups of TMAO are oriented preferentially toward the air phase. Furthermore, we explore the effects of TMAO on the interfacial water structure. The O–H stretch SFG spectra manifest that the hydrogen bond network of the aqueous TMAO-solution/air interface is similar to that of the amine-N-oxide (AO) surfactant/water interface. This demonstrates that, irrespective of the alkyl chain length, the AO groups have a similar impact on the hydrogen bond network of the interfacial water. In contrast, we find that adding TMAO to water makes the orientation of the free O−H groups of the interfacial water molecules more parallel to the surface normal. Invariance of the free O–H peak amplitude despite the enhanced orientation of the topmost water layer illustrates that TMAO is embedded in the topmost water layer, manifesting the clear contrast of the hydrophobic methyl group and the hydrophilic AO group of TMAO.