Vapor nucleation paths in lyophobic nanopores
Max-Planck Institut für Intelligente Systeme, 70569, Stuttgart, Germany
2 Sapienza Università di Roma, 00184, Rome, Italy
Accepted: 29 March 2018
Published online: 19 April 2018
In recent years, technologies revolving around the use of lyophobic nanopores gained considerable attention in both fundamental and applied research. Owing to the enormous internal surface area, heterogeneous lyophobic systems (HLS), constituted by a nanoporous lyophobic material and a non-wetting liquid, are promising candidates for the efficient storage or dissipation of mechanical energy. These diverse applications both rely on the forced intrusion and extrusion of the non-wetting liquid inside the pores; the behavior of HLS for storage or dissipation depends on the hysteresis between these two processes, which, in turn, are determined by the microscopic details of the system. It is easy to understand that molecular simulations provide an unmatched tool for understanding phenomena at these scales. In this contribution we use advanced atomistic simulation techniques in order to study the nucleation of vapor bubbles inside lyophobic mesopores. The use of the string method in collective variables allows us to overcome the computational challenges associated with the activated nature of the phenomenon, rendering a detailed picture of nucleation in confinement. In particular, this rare event method efficiently searches for the most probable nucleation path(s) in otherwise intractable, high-dimensional free-energy landscapes. Results reveal the existence of several independent nucleation paths associated with different free-energy barriers. In particular, there is a family of asymmetric transition paths, in which a bubble forms at one of the walls; the other family involves the formation of axisymmetric bubbles with an annulus shape. The computed free-energy profiles reveal that the asymmetric path is significantly more probable than the symmetric one, while the exact position where the asymmetric bubble forms is less relevant for the free energetics of the process. A comparison of the atomistic results with continuum models is also presented, showing how, for simple liquids in mesoporous materials of characteristic size of ca. 4nm, the nanoscale effects reported for smaller pores have a minor role. The atomistic estimates for the nucleation free-energy barrier are in qualitative accord with those that can be obtained using a macroscopic, capillary-based nucleation theory.
Key words: Topical issue: Advances in Computational Methods for Soft Matter Systems
© The Author(s), 2018