Elucidation of the physical factors that control activated transport of penetrants in chemically complex glass-forming liquids

Baicheng Mei, Grant S. Sheridan, Christopher M. Evans, Kenneth S. Schweizer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Understanding the activated transport of penetrant or tracer atoms and molecules in condensed phases is a challenging problem in chemistry, materials science, physics, and biophysics. Many angstrom- and nanometer-scale features enter due to the highly variable shape, size, interaction, and conformational flexibility of the penetrant and matrix species, leading to a dramatic diversity of penetrant dynamics. Based on a minimalist model of a spherical penetrant in equilibrated dense matrices of hard spheres, a recent microscopic theory that relates hopping transport to local structure has predicted a novel correlation between penetrant diffusivity and the matrix thermodynamic dimensionless compressibility, S0(T) (which also quantifies the amplitude of long wavelength density fluctuations), as a consequence of a fundamental statistical mechanical relationship between structure and thermodynamics. Moreover, the penetrant activation barrier is predicted to have a factorized/multiplicative form, scaling as the product of an inverse power law of S0(T) and a linear/logarithmic function of the penetrant-to-matrix size ratio. This implies an enormous reduction in chemical complexity that is verified based solely on experimental data for diverse classes of chemically complex penetrants dissolved in molecular and polymeric liquids over a wide range of temperatures down to the kinetic glass transition. The predicted corollary that the penetrant diffusion constant decreases exponentially with inverse temperature raised to an exponent determined solely by how S0(T) decreases with cooling is also verified experimentally. Our findings are relevant to fundamental questions in glassy dynamics, self-averaging of angstrom-scale chemical features, and applications such as membrane separations, barrier coatings, drug delivery, and self-healing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2210094119
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number41
StatePublished - Oct 11 2022


  • activated transport of penetrants
  • chemical complexity
  • dynamics–thermodynamics correlation
  • supercooled molecular and polymeric liquids

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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