Polymer Engineering Faculty Research


Prediction of Specific Biomolecule Adsorption on Silica Surfaces as a Function of pH and Particle Size

Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 8-26-2014


Silica nanostructures are biologically available and find wide applications for drug delivery, catalysts, separation processes, and composites. However, specific adsorption of biomolecules on silica surfaces and control in biomimetic synthesis remain largely unpredictable. In this contribution, the variability and control of peptide adsorption on silica nanoparticle surfaces are explained as a function of pH, particle diameter, and peptide electrostatic charge using molecular dynamics simulations with the CHARMM-INTERFACE force field. Adsorption free energies and specific binding residues are analyzed in molecular detail, providing experimentally elusive, atomic-level information on the complex dynamics of aqueous electric double layers in contact with biological molecules. Tunable contributions to adsorption are described in the context of specific silica surface chemistry, including ion pairing, hydrogen bonds, hydrophobic interactions, and conformation effects. Remarkable agreement is found for computed peptide binding as a function of pH and particle size with respect to experimental adsorption isotherms and ζ-potentials. Representative surface models were built using characterization of the silica surfaces by transmission electron microscopy (TEM), scanning electron microscopy (SEM), Brunauer–Emmett–Teller (BET), thermalgravimetric analysis (TGA), ζ-potential, and surface titration measurements. The results show that the recently introduced interatomic potentials (Emami et al. Chem. Mater. 2014, 26, 2647) enable computational screening of a limitless number of silica interfaces to predict the binding of drugs, cell receptors, polymers, surfactants, and gases under realistic solution conditions at the scale of 1 to 100 nm. The highly specific binding outcomes underline the significance of the surface chemistry, pH, and topography.

Publication Title

Chemistry of Materials





First Page


Last Page