Imaging the Homogeneous Nucleation During the Melting of Superheated Colloidal Crystals

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Science  05 Oct 2012:
Vol. 338, Issue 6103, pp. 87-90
DOI: 10.1126/science.1224763

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Homogeneous Melting

The nucleation and melting of crystals are primarily driven by surfaces and defects, which can lower the thermodynamic barrier to a phase transition. A harder problem to study is when the transition occurs uniformly. Wang et al. (p. 87; see the Perspective by Weeks) imaged the homogeneous melting of superheated colloidal crystals using a laser to initiate the melting at the interior of the crystal. The authors were then able to track nucleation precursors and nucleus evolution and to find where defects and instabilities limited the homogeneous melting process.


The nucleation process is crucial to many phase transitions, but its kinetics are difficult to predict and measure. We superheated and melted the interior of thermal-sensitive colloidal crystals and investigated by means of video microscopy the homogeneous melting at single-particle resolution. The observed nucleation precursor was local particle-exchange loops surrounded by particles with large displacement amplitudes rather than any defects. The critical size, incubation time, and shape and size evolutions of the nucleus were measured. They deviate from the classical nucleation theory under strong superheating, mainly because of the coalescence of nuclei. The superheat limit agrees with the measured Born and Lindemann instabilities.

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