Crystallization of amorphous solid films
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Below ~130 K, H2O can exist for prolonged periods in a thermodynamically unstable, non-crystalline solid form known as amorphous solid water (ASW). When warmed to above 135 K, ASW crystallizes to the thermodynamically favored state, cubic ice I, on a laboratory time scale. Despite the relevance of ASW crystallization to a variety of scientific problems ranging from astrophysical phenomena to cryopreservation, the kinetics of this transformation are largely uncharacterized, and its mechanism is not fully understood. In the present work, the crystallization kinetics of vapor-deposited, nonporous ASW films less than one micron thick are investigated experimentally near 140 K. The amorphous to crystalline transition is characterized using a probe molecule, chlorodifluoromethane (CHF2Cl), whose adsorbed states and hence desorption kinetics are sensitive to the crystallinity of solid water surfaces. The transformation kinetics of very thick ASW films are found to be both independent of specimen size and consistent with simultaneous homogeneous nucleation and isotropic growth of crystalline ice grains. As the ASW film thickness is reduced from 385 nm to 55 nm, however, the rate of surface crystallization decelerates, in apparent conflict with a homogeneous nucleation and growth mechanism. In an attempt to explain this behavior, a geometrical model of phase transition kinetics at the surface of solids, with special consideration of finite specimen size in one dimension, is constructed. For materials in which nucleation occurs spatially randomly, phase change is predicted to decelerate when film thickness is reduced below the mean crystal grain size. This phenomenon originates from a reduction in the number of crystallites available to transform the surface as the sample becomes thinner. Good quantitative agreement between this simple model and the experimental data is attained using a minimum of kinetic parameters, suggesting it captures the essential physics of ASW crystallization. These model fits also yield preliminary estimates of crystalline ice growth and nucleation rates. Finally, an experimental protocol and corresponding model of phase change that together permit accurate quantification of nucleation and growth kinetics (when both processes occur simultaneously) is developed. Using the outlined methodology, crystalline ice growth and nucleation rates near 140 K are found to be ~1 Å/s and ~1010 cm-3s -1, respectively, and to exhibit Arrhenius temperature dependencies with activation energies of ~50 and ~170 kJ/mol.