Ab initio simulation of field evaporation

JYW Qi and C Oberdorfer and W Windl and EA Marquis, PHYSICAL REVIEW MATERIALS, 6, 093602 (2022).

DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevMaterials.6.093602

A simulation approach of field evaporation is presented. The model combines classical electrostatics with molecular dynamics simulations. Unlike previous atomic-level simulation approaches, our method does not rely on an evaporation criterion based on thermal activation theory, instead, electric-field-induced forces on atoms are explicitly calculated and added to the interatomic forces. Atoms then simply move according to the laws of classical molecular dynamics and are "evaporated" when the external force overcomes interatomic bonding. This approach thus makes no ad hoc assumptions concerning evaporation fields and criteria, which makes the simulation fully physics-based and "ab initio" apart from the interatomic potential. As proof of principle, we perform simulations to determine material dependent critical voltages which allow assessing the evaporation fields and the corresponding steady-state tip shapes in different metals. We also extract critical evaporation fields in elemental metals and sublimation energies in a high entropy alloy to have a more direct comparison with tabulated values. In contrast to previous approaches, we show that our method is able to successfully reproduce the enhanced zone lines observed in experimental field desorption patterns. We also demonstrate the need for careful selection of the interatomic potential by a comparative study for the example of Cu-Ni alloys.

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