• Gopakumar, G.; Muchová, E.; Unger, I.; Malerz, S.; Trinter, F.; Öhrwall, G.; Lipparini, F.; Mennucci, B.; Céolin, D.; Caleman, C.; Wilkinson, I.; Winter, B.; Slavícek, P.; Hergenhahn, U.; Björneholm, O.: Probing aqueous ions with non-local Auger relaxation. Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics 24 (2022), p. 8661-8671

Open Access Version

Non-local analogues of Auger decay are increasingly recognized as important relaxation processes in the condensed phase. Here, we explore non-local autoionization, specifically Intermolecular Coulombic Decay (ICD), of a series of aqueous-phase isoelectronic cations following 1s core-level ionization. In particular, we focus on Na+, Mg2+, and Al3+ ions. We unambiguously identify the ICD contribution to the K-edge Auger spectrum. The different strength of the ion–water interactions is manifested by varying intensities of the respective signals: the ICD signal intensity is greatest for the Al3+ case, weaker for Mg2+, and absent for weakly-solvent-bound Na+. With the assistance of ab initio calculations and molecular dynamics simulations, we provide a microscopic understanding of the non-local decay processes. We assign the ICD signals to decay processes ending in two-hole states, delocalized between the central ion and neighbouring water. Importantly, these processes are shown to be highly selective with respect to the promoted water solvent ionization channels. Furthermore, using a core-hole-clock analysis, the associated ICD timescales are estimated to be around 76 fs for Mg2+ and 34 fs for Al3+. Building on these results, we argue that Auger and ICD spectroscopy represents a unique tool for the exploration of intra- and inter-molecular structure in the liquid phase, simultaneously providing both structural and electronic information.