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J Phys Chem A. 2008 Nov 20;112(46):11677-87. doi: 10.1021/jp803155f. Epub 2008 Oct 17.

Thermodynamics of heterogeneous crystal nucleation in contact and immersion modes.

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Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, SUNY at Buffalo, Buffalo, New York 14260, USA.

Erratum in

  • J Phys Chem A. 2012 Jan 26;116(3):1119.


One of the most intriguing problems of heterogeneous crystal nucleation in droplets is its strong enhancement in the contact mode (when the foreign particle is presumably in some kind of contact with the droplet surface) compared to the immersion mode (particle immersed in the droplet). Heterogeneous centers can have different nucleation thresholds when they act in contact or immersion modes. The underlying physical reasons for this enhancement have remained largely unclear. In this paper we present a model for the thermodynamic enhancement of heterogeneous crystal nucleation in the contact mode compared to the immersion one. To determine if and how the surface of a liquid droplet can thermodynamically stimulate its heterogeneous crystallization, we examine crystal nucleation in the immersion and contact modes by deriving and comparing with each other the reversible works of formation of crystal nuclei in these cases. The line tension of a three-phase contact gives rise to additional terms in the formation free energy of a crystal cluster and affects its Wulff (equilibrium) shape. As an illustration, the proposed model is applied to the heterogeneous nucleation of hexagonal ice crystals on generic macroscopic foreign particles in water droplets at T = 253 K. Our results show that the droplet surface does thermodynamically favor the contact mode over the immersion one. Surprisingly, the numerical evaluations suggest that the line tension contribution (from the contact of three water phases (vapor-liquid-crystal)) to this enhancement may be of the same order of magnitude as or even larger than the surface tension contribution.


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