Molecular insight into the lower critical solution temperature transition of aqueous alkyl phosphonium benzene sulfonates
Ionic liquid (IL)-water mixtures can exhibit a lower critical solution temperature (LCST) transition, but changes in long-range order and local molecular environment during this transition are not comprehensively understood. Here we show that in IL-H2O LCST mixtures, the IL forms loosely held aggregate structures that grow in size leading up to a critical temperature, whereas the aggregation of a fully miscible aqueous mixture, obtained by minor chemical modification of the anion, decreases with increasing temperature. Radial distribution functions from molecular dynamics simulations support the observation of aggregation phenomena in the IL-H2O mixtures. A local molecular structure of the ions is derived from multi-dimensional NMR experiments in conjunction with reported molecular dynamics simulations. In addition to considerable shifts of water’s hydrogen bonding network in the fully miscible phase, by NMR we observe the anion’s protons response to the intermolecular thermal environment and the intramolecular environment and find that the responses are determined by the sulfonate ionic functional group.