Hydration Layer Structure of Biofouling-Resistant Nanoparticles
Hydrophilic surface chemistries can strongly bind water to produce surfaces that are highly resistant to protein adsorption and fouling. The interfacial bound water and its distinct properties have intrigued researchers for decades, yet the relationship between the water three-dimensional structure and function in antifouling coatings remains elusive. Here, we use hydrophilic, epoxy organosilane modified silica nanoparticles to demonstrate cheap, robust, and practically applied coatings that we discover have broad-ranging, ultralow fouling properties when challenged by various proteins, bacteria, and fungal spores. To understand their excellent antifouling properties, frequency modulation-atomic force microscopy is used to directly observe the interfacial water structure at subatomic resolution, which we validate using all-atom molecular dynamic simulations that strikingly predict similar structures of water layers on the original and ultralow fouling surfaces. The convergence of experimental and modeling data reveals that suitably spaced, flexible chains with hydrophilic groups interact with water molecules to produce a connective, quasi-stable layer, consisting of dynamic interfacial water, that provides a basis for antifouling performance of ultrathin, hydrophilic surface chemistries.