Three-Dimensional Molecular Mapping of Ionic Liquids at Electrified Interfaces

Shan Zhou, Kaustubh S. Panse, Mohammad Hossein Motevaselian, Narayana R Aluru, Yingjie Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Electric double layers (EDLs), occurring ubiquitously at solid-liquid interfaces, are critical for electrochemical energy conversion and storage processes such as capacitive charging and redox reactions. However, to date the molecular-scale structure of EDLs remains elusive. Here we report an advanced technique, electrochemical three-dimensional atomic force microscopy (EC-3D-AFM), and use it to directly image the molecular-scale EDL structure of an ionic liquid under different electrode potentials. We observe not only multiple discrete ionic layers in the EDL on a graphite electrode but also a quasi-periodic molecular density distribution within each layer. Furthermore, we find pronounced 3D reconfiguration of the EDL at different voltages, especially in the first layer. Combining the experimental results with molecular dynamics simulations, we find potential-dependent molecular redistribution and reorientation in the innermost EDL layer, both of which are critical to EDL capacitive charging. We expect this mechanistic understanding to have profound impacts on the rational design of electrode-electrolyte interfaces for energy conversion and storage.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17515-17523
Number of pages9
JournalACS Nano
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 22 2020


  • 3D-AFM
  • electric double layer
  • electrochemical AFM
  • electrode-electrolyte interface
  • ionic liquid
  • solid-liquid interface

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Materials Science
  • General Engineering
  • General Physics and Astronomy


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