Structure of the Hexadecane Rotator Phase: Combination of X-ray Spectra and Molecular Dynamics Simulation

SA Burrows and EE Lin and D Cholakova and S Richardson and SK Smoukov, JOURNAL OF PHYSICAL CHEMISTRY B, 127, 7772-7784 (2023).

DOI: 10.1021/acs.jpcb.3c02027

Rotator phases are rotationally disordered plastic crystals, some of which can form upon freezing of alkane at alkane-water interfaces. Existing X-ray diffraction studies show only partial unit cell information for rotator phases of some alkanes. This includes the rotator phase of n-hexadecane, which is a transient metastable phase in pure alkane systems, but shows remarkable stability at interfaces when mediated by a surfactant. Here, we combine synchrotron X-ray diffraction data and molecular dynamics (MD) simulations, reporting clear evidence of the face-centered orthorhombic RI rotator phase from spectra for two hexadecane emulsions, one stabilized by Brij C10 and another by Tween 40 surfactants. MD simulations of pure hexadecane use the recently developed Williams 7B force field, which is capable of reproducing crystal-to-rotator phase transitions, and it also predicts the crystal structure of the RI phase. Full unit cell information is obtained by combining unit cell dimensions from synchrotron data and molecular orientations from MD simulations. A unit cell model of the R-I phase is produced in the crystallographic information file (CIF) format, with each molecule represented by a superposition of four rotational positions, each with 25% occupancy. Powder diffraction spectra computed using this model are in good agreement with the experimental spectra.

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