Linking Structure to Dynamics in Protic Ionic Liquids: A Neutron Scattering Study of Correlated and Single-Particle Motions

Coupling between dynamical heterogeneity of ionic liquids and their structural periodicity on different length-scales can be directly probed by quasielastic neutron scattering with polarization analysis. The technique provides the tools to investigate single-particle and cooperative ion motions separately and, thus, dynamics of ion associations affecting the net charge transport can be experimentally explored. The focus of this study is the structure-dynamic relationship in the protic ionic liquid, triethylammonium triflate, characterized by strong hydrogen bonds between cations and anions. The site-selective deuterium/hydrogen-isotope substitution was applied to modulate the relative contributions of different atom groups to the total coherent and incoherent scattering signal. This approach in combination with molecular dynamics simulations allowed us to obtain a sophisticated description of cation self-diffusion and confined ion pair dynamics from the incoherent spectral component by using the acidic proton as a tagged particle. The coherent contribution of the neutron spectra demonstrated substantial ion association leading to collective ion migration that preserves charge alteration on picosecond time scale, as well as correlation of the localized dynamics occurring between adjacent ions.