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Ionic size effects: generalized Boltzmann distributions, counterion stratification and modified Debye length


Near a charged surface, counterions of different valences and sizes cluster; and their concentration profiles stratify. At a distance from such a surface larger than the Debye length, the electric field is screened by counterions. Recent studies by a variational mean-field approach that includes ionic size effects and by Monte Carlo simulations both suggest that the counterion stratification is determined by the ionic valence-to-volume ratios. Central in the mean-field approach is a free-energy functional of ionic concentrations in which the ionic size effects are included through the entropic effect of solvent molecules. The corresponding equilibrium conditions define the generalized Boltzmann distributions relating the ionic concentrations to the electrostatic potential. This paper presents a detailed analysis and numerical calculations of such a free-energy functional to understand the dependence of the ionic charge density on the electrostatic potential through the generalized Boltzmann distributions, the role of ionic valence-to-volume ratios in the counterion stratification, and the modification of Debye length due to the effect of ionic sizes.

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