All About Chemistry... 2011 and beyond

Related Stories

Keeping the Ions Close: A New Activity

Released: 28-Aug-2015 1:45 PM EDT
Source Newsroom: Department of Energy, Office of Science
Add to Favorites
Contact Information

Available for logged-in reporters only

Citations Journal of Physical Chemistry B 118, 7211 (2014)

The Science

Improving chemical reactions ranging from refining oil to building longer-lasting batteries means understanding the chemistry of acids and bases. Researchers discovered that when a strong acid such as hydrochloric acid (HCl) is mixed with water, the negative anion and positive cation remain close and create an unexpected structure. These results provide a better understanding of the complexity of acid/base chemistry in concentrated, non-ideal chemical solutions.

The Impact

This new study – detailing the important role of the counter ion (chloride in the case of HCl) in the reaction network of acids behavior – provides a template to connect structure and function. The connection can help scientists develop a deeper understanding of the most basic concepts in chemistry and provide foundational information for use in battery applications.


Introductory chemistry textbooks state that when an acid is added to water that the positive and negatively charged ions quickly separate from each other based on research with low acidic concentrations. With strong acids, such as hydrochloric acid (HCl), it was thought to be the same situation: the positive ions of hydrogen (H+) diffuse – creating the acidity of the solution, neutralizing basic substances, corroding metals and/or reacting with organic substances – and then quickly associate with water to become a hydronium ion or H3O+, while the chloride counter ion (Cl-) forms independent, negatively charged solvated fragments. However, the fundamental properties of the counter ions surrounded by water have not been thoroughly experimentally studied. Now researchers using computational and experimental methods examine low, medium, and high concentrations of HCl in liquid water and discovered that the negatively charged Cl- and the positively charged H+ actually remain closer to each other in an unexpected structure throughout the entire concentration range studied. The researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory combined extended X-ray absorption fine structure, neutron diffraction, and X-ray diffraction measurements using the Argonne Advanced Photon Source with state-of-the-art density functional theory simulations. Specifically, the researchers measured the distance and geometry between the chloride ion and the oxygen in the hydronium ion comprising the contact ion pair – finding that it was significantly shorter than the interaction between chloride and the oxygen of water as expected in an ideal dissociation picture. These structures differed significantly from those studied in the gas phases, which were used in prior computational models. The team is now examining more complex ions with the idea of tuning them to specific purposes.


This work was supported the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Basic Energy Sciences, Division of Chemical Sciences, Geosciences, and Biosciences (JFL, GKS, CJM) and by a Linus Pauling Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellowship Program at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (MDB).

PNC/XSD facilities at the Advanced Photon Source and research at these facilities are supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Basic Energy Sciences, a Major Resources Support grant from the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center, the University of Washington, the Canadian Light Source, and the Advanced Photon Source.

This research used resources at the Advanced Photon Source, which is a U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science User Facility operated by Argonne National Laboratory under Contract DE-AC02-06CH11357.

This research used resources of the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center, which is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science under Contract DE-AC02-05CH11231.


M.D. Baer, J.L. Fulton, M. Balasubramanian, G.K. Schenter, and C.J. Mundy, “Persistent ion pairing in aqueous hydrochloric acid.” The Journal of Physical Chemistry B 118, 7211 (2014). [DOI: 10.1021/jp501091h]


Share this story with your friends!

Social Networking

Please recommend us on Facebook, Twitter and more:

Other social media tools

Global Partners

Tell us what you think of Chemistry 2011 -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?

About us

Chemistry2011 is an informational resource for students, educators and the self-taught in the field of chemistry. We offer resources such as course materials, chemistry department listings, activities, events, projects and more along with current news releases.

Events & Activities

Are you interested in listing an event or sharing an activity or idea? Perhaps you are coordinating an event and are in need of additional resources? Within our site you will find a variety of activities and projects your peers have previously submitted or which have been freely shared through creative commons licenses. Here are some highlights: Featured Idea 1, Featured Idea 2.

About you

Ready to get involved? The first step is to sign up by following the link: Join Here. Also don’t forget to fill out your profile including any professional designations.

Global Partners