Competing nucleation pathways in a mixture of oppositely charged colloids: Out-of-equilibrium nucleation revisited

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Recent simulations of crystal nucleation from a compressed liquid of oppositely charged colloids show that the natural Brownian dynamics results in nuclei of a charge-disordered FCC (DFCC) solid whereas artificially accelerated dynamics with charge swap moves result in charge-ordered nuclei of a CsCl phase. These results were interpreted as a breakdown of the quasiequilibrium assumption for precritical nuclei. We use structure-specific nucleus size coordinates for the CsCl and DFCC structures and equilibrium based sampling methods to understand the dynamical effects on structure selectivity in this system. Nonequilibrium effects observed in previous simulations emerge from a diffusion tensor that dramatically changes when charge swap moves are used. Without the charge swap moves diffusion is strongly anisotropic with very slow motion along the charge-ordered CsCl axis and faster motion along the DFCC axis. Kramers-Langer-Berezhkovskii-Szabo theory predicts that under the realistic dynamics, the diffusion anisotropy shifts the current toward the DFCC axis. The diffusion tensor also varies with location on the free energy landscape. A numerical calculation of the current field with a diffusion tensor that depends on the location in the free energy landscape exacerbates the extent to which the current is skewed toward DFCC structures. Our analysis confirms that quasiequilibrium theories based on equilibrium properties can explain the nonequilibrium behavior of this system. Our analysis also shows that using a structure-specific nucleus size coordinate for each possible nucleation product can provide mechanistic insight on selectivity and competition between nucleation pathways.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number244103
JournalJournal of Chemical Physics
Issue number24
StatePublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Physics and Astronomy
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry


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