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Natural surfaces are often structured with nanometre-scale domains, yet a framework providing a quantitative understanding of how nanostructure affects interfacial energy, gamma(SL), is lacking. Conventional continuum thermodynamics treats gamma(SL) solely as a function of average composition, ignoring structure. Here we show that, when a surface has domains commensurate in size with solvent molecules, gamma(SL) is determined not only by its average composition but also by a structural component that causes gamma(SL) to deviate from the continuum prediction by a substantial amount, as much as 20% in our system. By contrasting surfaces coated with either molecular- (<2 nm) or larger-scale domains (>5 nm), we find that whereas the latter surfaces have the expected linear dependence of gamma(SL) on surface composition, the former show a markedly different non-monotonic trend. Molecular dynamics simulations show how the organization of the solvent molecules at the interface is controlled by the nanostructured surface, which in turn appreciably modifies gamma(SL).

Original publication




Journal article


Nat Mater

Publication Date





837 - 842


Nanoparticles, Nanotechnology, Surface Properties, Thermodynamics