Mark J. DelloStritto, Stephan M. Piontek, Michael L. Klein, and Eric Borguet, J. Phys. Chem. Lett., 2019, 10, 9, 2031–2036 (2019)
Oxide−water interfaces are ubiquitous, with many applications in industry and the environment, yet there is a great deal of controversy over their properties and microscopic structure. This controversy stems, in part, from the unique H-bond networks formed at different surface terminations and mineral compositions. Density functional theory simulations of these interfaces require an accurate description of both the oxide mineral and water in diverse H-bond environments. Thus, herein we simulate the Al2O3(001)−H2O interface using the PBE, PBE-TS, RPBE, SCAN, and HSE06-TS functionals to determine how calculated interfacial properties depend on the choice of functional. We find that the structure of the first few layers of water at the surface is determined by electron correlation in a way that cannot be approximated using semiemipirical van der Waals corrections. Of the functionals investigated, we find that SCAN yields the most accurate interfacial structure, dynamics, and sum frequency generation spectrum. Furthermore, SCAN leads to a reduction in the order of the 2D H-bond network of water at the alumina surface predicted by GGA functionals, leading to a significant decrease in the anisotropy of the diffusion coefficient at the surface. We emphasize the importance of using a functional which accurately describes electron correlation for more complex oxides, such as transition-metal oxides, where electron correlation may play an even greater role in determining the structure and dynamics of the oxide−water interface.