Licenciate Thesis defense: The Role of Molecular Heterogeneity in the Structural Dynamics of Aqueous Solutions

Aqueous solutions constitute the basis of life, yet their complex and anomalous nature is far from well-understood. Transient molecular ordering gives rise to microscopic spatial liquid heterogeneities and fluctuations which are believed to play a key role in biochemical processes as well as in pure water, the latter of which could fundamentally alter our view on water as life’s solvent. In this thesis, we experimentally investigate the structural dynamics in aqueous solutions with the aim to understand the role of molecular heterogeneity in the complex solution dynamics. To extract dynamic information, we utilize coherent light- and X-ray scattering techniques, such as dynamic light scattering (DLS) and X-ray photon correlation spectroscopy (XPCS), which can resolve structural dynamics on a broad range of length and time scales. We explore the influence of hypothesized water fluctuations in the dynamics of simple model solutes, finding that their diffusive dynamic behaviour is effectively similar and independent of solute size down to molecular scale, whilst significantly different from that of single water molecules. Secondly, in a first proof-of-concept experiment, we successfully combine the spatial resolution of nanofocused coherent X-ray beams with dynamic measurements by XPCS, the results of which indicate that `nano-XPCS’ could prove a valuable tool in the quest to resolve nanoscale fluctuations. Finally, an outlook is given where the next steps in these investigations are discussed, such as the use of aqueous-organic mixtures as model systems for spatially heterogeneous dynamics in biological solutions.