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Gas-liquid nucleation at large metastability: unusual features and a new formalism

Santra, Mantu and Singh, Rakesh S and Bagchi, Biman (2011) Gas-liquid nucleation at large metastability: unusual features and a new formalism. In: Journal of Statistical Mechanics: Theory and Experiment .

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Official URL: http://iopscience.iop.org/1742-5468/2011/03/P03017


Nucleation at large metastability is still largely an unsolved problem, even though it is a problem of tremendous current interest, with wide-ranging practical value, from atmospheric research to materials science. It is now well accepted that the classical nucleation theory (CNT) fails to provide a qualitative picture and gives incorrect quantitative values for such quantities as activation-free energy barrier and supersaturation dependence of nucleation rate, especially at large metastability. In this paper, we present an alternative formalism to treat nucleation at large supersaturation by introducing an extended set of order parameters in terms of the kth largest liquid-like clusters, where k = 1 is the largest cluster in the system, k = 2 is the second largest cluster and so on. At low supersaturation, the size of the largest liquid-like cluster acts as a suitable order parameter. At large supersaturation, the free energy barrier for the largest liquid-like cluster disappears. We identify this supersaturation as the one at the onset of kinetic spinodal. The kinetic spinodal is system-size-dependent. Beyond kinetic spinodal many clusters grow simultaneously and competitively and hence the nucleation and growth become collective. In order to describe collective growth, we need to consider the full set of order parameters. We derive an analytic expression for the free energy of formation of the kth largest cluster. The expression predicts that, at large metastability (beyond kinetic spinodal), the barrier of growth for several largest liquid-like clusters disappears, and all these clusters grow simultaneously. The approach to the critical size occurs by barrierless diffusion in the cluster size space. The expression for the rate of barrier crossing predicts weaker supersaturation dependence than what is predicted by CNT at large metastability. Such a crossover behavior has indeed been observed in recent experiments (but eluded an explanation till now). In order to understand the large numerical discrepancy between simulation predictions and experimental results, we carried out a study of the dependence on the range of intermolecular interactions of both the surface tension of an equilibrium planar gas-liquid interface and the free energy barrier of nucleation. Both are found to depend significantly on the range of interaction for the Lennard-Jones potential, both in two and three dimensions. The value of surface tension and also the free energy difference between the gas and the liquid phase increase significantly and converge only when the range of interaction is extended beyond 6-7 molecular diameters. We find, with the full range of interaction potential, that the surface tension shows only a weak dependence on supersaturation, so the reason for the breakdown of CNT (with simulated values of surface tension and free energy gap) cannot be attributed to the supersaturation dependence of surface tension. This remains an unsettled issue at present because of the use of the value of surface tension obtained at coexistence.

Item Type: Journal Article
Additional Information: Copyright of this article belongs to IOP Publishing ltd.
Keywords: classical Monte Carlo simulations;classical phase transitions (theory);nucleation (theory);metastable states
Department/Centre: Division of Chemical Sciences > Solid State & Structural Chemistry Unit
Depositing User: Id for Latest eprints
Date Deposited: 26 Apr 2011 08:10
Last Modified: 26 Apr 2011 08:10
URI: http://eprints.iisc.ac.in/id/eprint/37151

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