Interplay of structural and dynamical heterogeneity in the nucleation mechanism in nickel

Díaz Leines, G. and Michaelides, A. and Rogal, J.

Volume: 235 Pages: 406-415
DOI: 10.1039/d1fd00099c
Published: 2021

Gaining a fundamental understanding of crystal nucleation processes in metal alloys is crucial for the development and design of high-performance materials with targeted properties. Yet, crystallization is a complex non-equilibrium process and, despite having been studied for decades, the microscopic aspects that govern the crystallization mechanism of a material remain elusive to date. Recent evidence shows that the spatial heterogeneity in the supercooled liquid, characterised by extended regions with distinctive mobility and order, may be a key microscopic factor that determines the mechanism of crystal nucleation. These findings have advanced our view of the fundamental nature of crystallization, as most research has assumed that crystal clusters nucleate from random fluctuations in a ‘homogeneous’ liquid. Here, by analysing transition path sampling trajectories, we show that dynamical heterogeneity plays a key role in the mechanism of crystal nucleation in an elemental metal, nickel. Our results demonstrate that crystallization occurs preferentially in regions of low mobility in the supercooled liquid, evidencing the collective dynamical nature of crystal nucleation in Ni. In addition, our results show that low mobility regions form before and spatially overlap with pre-ordered domains that act as precursors to the crystal phase that subsequently emerges. Our results show a clear link between dynamical and structural heterogeneity in the supercooled liquid and its impact on the nucleation mechanism, revealing microscopic descriptors that could pave a novel way to control crystallization processes in metals. © 2022 The Royal Society of Chemistry.

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