The electrostatic origins of specific ion effects: quantifying the Hofmeister series for anions

Kasimir Gregory, Erica J Wanless, Grant Webber, Vince Craig, Alister J Page

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    47 Citations (Scopus)


    Life as we know it is dependent upon water, or more specifically salty water. Without dissolved ions, the interactions between biological molecules are insufficiently complex to support life. This complexity is intimately tied to the variation in properties induced by the presence of different ions. These specific ion effects, widely known as Hofmeister effects, have been known for more than 100 years. They are ubiquitous throughout the chemical, biological and physical sciences. The origin of these effects and their relative strengths is still hotly debated. Here we reconsider the origins of specific ion effects through the lens of Coulomb interactions and establish a foundation for anion effects in aqueous and non-aqueous environments. We show that, for anions, the Hofmeister series can be explained and quantified by consideration of site-specific electrostatic interactions. This can simply be approximated by the radial charge density of the anion, which we have calculated for commonly reported ions. This broadly quantifies previously unpredictable specific ion effects, including those known to influence solution properties, virus activities and reaction rates. Furthermore, in non-aqueous solvents, the relative magnitude of the anion series is dependent on the Lewis acidity of the solvent, as measured by the Gutmann Acceptor Number. Analogous SIEs for cations bear limited correlation with their radial charge density, highlighting a fundamental asymmetry in the origins of specific ion effects for anions and cations, due to competing non-Coulombic phenomena.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)15007-15015
    JournalChemical Science
    Publication statusPublished - 2021


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