Wang, YT (reprint author), Chinese Acad Sci, Inst Theoret Phys, State Key Lab Theoret Phys, 55 East Zhongguancun Rd,POB 2735, Beijing 100190, Peoples R China.
Inherited the advantages of inorganic salts and organic solvents, ionic liquids (ILs) exhibit many superior properties allowing them promising green solvents for the future. Although it has been widely acknowledged that the unique features of ILs originate from their dual ionic and organic nature, its microscopic physical origin still remains blurry. In this work, by comparing the ion/molecule cage structures obtained from molecular dynamics simulations for seven prototypic liquids-a molten inorganic salt, four ILs, a strongly polar organic solvent, and a weakly polar organic solvent, we have revealed that the depth of the cage energy landscape characterizes the ionic nature of ILs, whereas the slope and curvature of its mimimum determine the organic nature of ILs. This finding advances our understanding of ILs and thus will help their efficient utilization as well as the systematic design of novel functionalized ILs.