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Growth and melting of droplets in cold vapors

A model has been developed to investigate the growth of droplets in a supersaturated cold vapor taking into account their possible solid-liquid phase transition. It is shown that the solid-liquid phase transition is nontrivially coupled, through the energy released in attachment, to the nucleation process. The model is based on the one developed by J. Feder, K. C. Russell, J. Lothe, and G. M. Pound [Adv. Phys. 15, 111 (1966)], where the nucleation process is described as a thermal diffusion motion in a two-dimensional field of force given by the derivatives of a free-energy surface. The additional dimension accounts for droplets internal energy. The solid-liquid phase transition is introduced through a bimodal internal energy distribution in a Gaussian approximation derived from small clusters physics. The coupling between nucleation and melting results in specific nonequilibrium thermodynamical properties, exemplified in the case of water droplets. Analyzing the free-energy landscapes gives an insight into the nucleation dynamics. This landscape can be complex but generally exhibits two paths : the first one can generally be ascribed to the solid state, while the other to the liquid state. Especially at high supersaturation, the growth in the liquid state is often favored, which is not unexpected since in a supersaturated vapor the droplets can stand higher internal energy than at equilibrium. From a given critical temperature that is noticeably lower than the bulk melting temperature, nucleation may end in very large liquid droplets. These features can be qualitatively generalized to systems other than water.

Voir en ligne : Phys. Rev. E 80, 051602 (2009)