Impact of surface roughness on liquid-liquid transition

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Science Advances  17 Feb 2017:
Vol. 3, no. 2, e1602209
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1602209

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Liquid-liquid transition (LLT) in single-component liquids is one of the most mysterious phenomena in condensed matter. So far, this problem has attracted attention mainly from the fundamental viewpoint. We report the first experimental study on an impact of surface nanostructuring on LLT by using a surface treatment called rubbing, which is the key technology for the production of liquid crystal displays. We find that this rubbing treatment has a significant impact on the kinetics of LLT of an isotropic molecular liquid, triphenyl phosphite. For a liquid confined between rubbed surfaces, surface-induced barrierless formation of the liquid II phase is observed even in a metastable state, where there should be a barrier for nucleation of the liquid II phase in bulk. Thus, surface rubbing of substrates not only changes the ordering behavior but also significantly accelerates the kinetics. This spatiotemporal pattern modulation of LLT can be explained by a wedge-filling transition and the resulting drastic reduction of the nucleation barrier. However, this effect completely disappears in the unstable (spinodal) regime, indicating the absence of the activation barrier even for bulk LLT. This confirms the presence of nucleation-growth– and spinodal decomposition–type LLT, supporting the conclusion that LLT is truly a first-order transition with criticality. Our finding also opens up a new way to control the kinetics of LLT of a liquid confined in a solid cell by structuring its surface on a mesoscopic length scale, which may contribute to making LLT useful for microfluidics and other industrial applications.

  • liquid-liquid transition
  • surface effects
  • rubbing
  • wedge filling
  • pattern evolution

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