The presence of local anisotropy in the bulk, isotropic, and ionic liquid phases-leading to local mesoscopic inhomogeneity-with nanoscale segregation and expanding nonpolar domains on increasing the length of the cation alkyl-substituents has been proposed on the basis of molecular dynamics (MD) simulations. However, there has been little conclusive experimental evidence for the existence of intermediate mesoscopic structure between the first/second shell correlations shown by neutron scattering on short chain length based materials and the mesophase structure of the long chain length ionic liquid crystals. Herein, small angle neutron scattering measurements have been performed on selectively H/D-isotopically substituted 1-alkyl-3-methylimidazolium hexafluorophosphate ionic liquids with butyl, hexyl, and octyl substituents. The data show the unambiguous existence of a diffraction peak in the low-Q region for all three liquids which moves to longer distances (lower Q), sharpens, and increases in intensity with increasing length of the alkyl substituent. It is notable, however, that this peak occurs at lower values of Q (longer length scale) than predicted in any of the previously published MD simulations of ionic liquids, and that the magnitude of the scattering from this peak is comparable with that from the remainder of the amorphous ionic liquid. This strongly suggests that the peak arises from the second coordination shells of the ions along the vector of alkyl-chain substituents as a consequence of increasing the anisotropy of the cation, and that there is little or no long-range correlated nanostructure in these ionic liquids.
Hardacre, C., Holbrey, J., Mullan, C., Youngs, T., & Bowron, D. T. (2010). Small angle neutron scattering from 1-alkyl-3-methylimidazolium hexafluorophosphate ionic liquids ([C(n)mim][PF6], n=4, 6, and 8). Journal of Chemical Physics, 133(7), . https://doi.org/10.1063/1.3473825