Direct observation of anisotropic growth of water films on minerals driven by defects and surface tension

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Science Advances  24 Jul 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 30, eaaz9708
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaz9708


Knowledge of the occurrences of water films on minerals is critical for global biogeochemical and atmospheric processes, including element cycling and ice nucleation. The underlying mechanisms controlling water film growth are, however, misunderstood. Using infrared nanospectroscopy, amplitude-modulated atomic force microscopy, and molecular simulations, we show how water films grow from water vapor on hydrophilic mineral nanoparticles. We imaged films with up to four water layers that grow anisotropically over a single face. Growth usually begins from the near edges of a face where defects preferentially capture water vapor. Thicker films produced by condensation cooling completely engulf nanoparticles and form thicker menisci over defects. The high surface tension of water smooths film surfaces and produces films of inhomogeneous thickness. Nanoscale topography and film surface energy thereby control anisotropic distributions and thicknesses of water films on hydrophilic mineral nanoparticles.

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