Indexed on: 12 Dec '12Published on: 12 Dec '12Published in: Physical review. E, Statistical, nonlinear, and soft matter physics
The classical theory of electrokinetic phenomena is based on the mean-field approximation that the electric field acting on an individual ion is self-consistently determined by the local mean charge density. This paper considers situations, such as concentrated electrolytes, multivalent electrolytes, or solvent-free ionic liquids, where the mean-field approximation breaks down. A fourth-order modified Poisson equation is developed that captures the essential features in a simple continuum framework. The model is derived as a gradient approximation for nonlocal electrostatics of interacting effective charges, where the permittivity becomes a differential operator, scaled by a correlation length. The theory is able to capture subtle aspects of molecular simulations and allows for simple calculations of electrokinetic flows in correlated ionic fluids. Charge-density oscillations tend to reduce electro-osmotic flow and streaming current, and overscreening of surface charge can lead to flow reversal. These effects also help to explain the suppression of induced-charge electrokinetic phenomena at high salt concentrations.