Origin of dielectric polarization suppression in confined water from first principles

T. Dufils, C. Schran, J. Chen, A. K. Geim, L. Fumagalli, A. Michaelides

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It has long been known that the dielectric constant of confined water should be different from that in bulk. Recent experiments have shown that it is vanishingly small, however the origin of the phenomenon remains unclear. Here we used ab initio molecular dynamics simulations (AIMD) and AIMD-trained machine-learning potentials to understand water's structure and electronic properties underpinning this effect. For the graphene and hexagonal boron-nitride substrates considered, we find that it originates in the spontaneous anti-parallel alignment of the water dipoles in the first two water layers near the solid interface. The interfacial layers exhibit net ferroelectric ordering, resulting in an overall anti-ferroelectric arrangement of confined water. Together with constrained hydrogen-bonding orientations, this leads to much reduced out-of-plane polarization. Furthermore, we directly contrast AIMD and simple classical force-field simulations, revealing important differences. This work offers insight into a property of water that is critical in modulating surface forces, the electric-double-layer formation and molecular solvation, and shows a way to compute it.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)516-527
JournalChemical Science
Early online date4 Dec 2023
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jan 2024


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