On the challenge of sampling multiple nucleation pathways: A case study of heterogeneous ice nucleation on FCC (211) surface

W Zhao and TS Li, JOURNAL OF CHEMICAL PHYSICS, 158, 124501 (2023).

DOI: 10.1063/5.0144712

Heterogeneous ice nucleation is ubiquitous but its microscopic mechanisms can be extraordinarily complex even on a simple surface. Such complexity poses a challenge in modeling nucleation using advanced sampling methods. Here, we investigate heterogeneous ice nucleation on an FCC (211) surface by a forward flux sampling (FFS) method to understand how the complexity in nucleation pathways affects the accuracy of FFS. We first show the commonly adopted, size-based order parameter fails to describe heterogeneous ice nucleation on the FCC (211) surface. Inclusion of geometric anisotropy of ice nucleus as an additional descriptor is found to significantly improve the quality of the size-based order parameter for the current system. Subsequent application of this new order parameter in FFS identifies two competing ice nucleation pathways in the system: a primary-prism-planed (PPP) path and a secondary-prism-planed (SPP) path, both leading to the formation of hexagonal ice but with different crystalline orientations. Although the PPP pathway dominates ice nucleation on the FCC (211) surface, the occurrence of the less efficient SPP pathway, particularly its strong presence at the early stage of FFS, is found to yield a significant statistical uncertainty in the calculated FFS rate constant. We develop a two-path model that enables gaining a general, quantitative understanding of the impact of initial finite sampling on the reliability of FFS calculations in the presence of multiple nucleation pathways. Our study also suggests a few general strategies for improving the accuracy of FFS when exploring unknown but complex systems.

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