Anomalous Freezing of Low-Dimensional Water Confined in Graphene Nanowrinkles

T Verhagen and J Klimes and B Pacakova and M Kalbac and J Vejpravova, ACS NANO, 14, 15587-15594 (2020).

DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.0c03161

Various properties of water are affected by confinement as the space- filling of the water molecules is very different from bulk water. In our study, we challenged the creation of a stable system in which water molecules are permanently locked in nanodimensional graphene traps. For that purpose, we developed a technique, nitrocellulose-assisted transfer of graphene grown by chemical vapor deposition, which enables capturing of the water molecules below an atomically thin graphene membrane structured into a net of regular wrinkles with a lateral dimension of about 4 nm. After successfully confining water molecules below a graphene monolayer, we employed cryogenic Raman spectroscopy to monitor the phase changes of the confined water as a function of the temperature. In our experiment system, the graphene monolayer structured into a net of fine wrinkles plays a dual role: (i) it enables water confinement and (ii) serves as an extremely sensitive probe for phase transitions involving water via graphene-based spectroscopic monitoring of the underlying water structure. Experimental findings were supported with classical and path integral molecular dynamics simulations carried out on our experimental system. Results of simulations show that surface premelting of the ice confined within the wrinkles starts at similar to 200 K and the melting process is complete at similar to 240 K, which is far below the melting temperature of bulk water ice. The processes correspond to changes in the doping and strain in the graphene tracked by Raman spectroscopy. We conclude that water can be confined between graphene structured into nanowrinkles and silica substrate and its phase transitions can be tracked via Raman spectral feature of the encapsulating graphene. Our study also demonstrated that peculiar behavior of liquids under spatial confinement can be inspected via the optical response of atomically thin graphene sensors.

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