Supercritical fluids behave as complex networks

F Simeski and M Ihme, NATURE COMMUNICATIONS, 14, 1996 (2023).

DOI: 10.1038/s41467-023-37645-z

Supercritical fluids play a key role in environmental, geological, and celestial processes, and are of great importance to many scientific and engineering applications. They exhibit strong variations in thermodynamic response functions, which has been hypothesized to stem from the microstructural behavior. However, a direct connection between thermodynamic conditions and the microstructural behavior, as described by molecular clusters, remains an outstanding issue. By utilizing a first-principles-based criterion and self-similarity analysis, we identify energetically localized molecular clusters whose size distribution and connectivity exhibit self-similarity in the extended supercritical phase space. We show that the structural response of these clusters follows a complex network behavior whose dynamics arises from the energetics of isotropic molecular interactions. Furthermore, we demonstrate that a hidden variable network model can accurately describe the structural and dynamical response of supercritical fluids. These results highlight the need for constitutive models and provide a basis to relate the fluid microstructure to thermodynamic response functions. Supercritical fluids have local density inhomogeneities caused by molecular clusters. Authors show that the molecular interactions of supercritical fluids, associated with localized clusters, obey complex network dynamics that can be represented by a hidden-variable network model.

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