Interplay between dynamic heterogeneity and interfacial gradients in a model polymer film

AD Hartley and WF Drayer and A Ghanekarade and DS Simmons, JOURNAL OF CHEMICAL PHYSICS, 159, 204905 (2023).

DOI: 10.1063/5.0165650

Glass-forming liquids exhibit long-lived, spatially correlated dynamical heterogeneity, in which some nm-scale regions in the fluid relax more slowly than others. In the nanoscale vicinity of an interface, glass- formers also exhibit the emergence of massive interfacial gradients in glass transition temperature Tg and relaxation time tau. Both of these forms of heterogeneity have a major impact on material properties. Nevertheless, their interplay has remained poorly understood. Here, we employ molecular dynamics simulations of polymer thin films in the isoconfigurational ensemble in order to probe how bulk dynamic heterogeneity alters and is altered by the large gradient in dynamics at the surface of a glass-forming liquid. Results indicate that the tau spectrum at the surface is broader than in the bulk despite being shifted to shorter times, and yet it is less spatially correlated. This is distinct from the bulk, where the tau distribution becomes broader and more spatially organized as the mean tau increases. We also find that surface gradients in slow dynamics extend further into the film than those in fast dynamics-a result with implications for how distinct properties are perturbed near an interface. None of these features track locally with changes in the heterogeneity of caging scale, emphasizing the local disconnect between these quantities near interfaces. These results are at odds with conceptions of the surface as reflecting simply a higher "rheological temperature" than the bulk, instead pointing to a complex interplay between bulk dynamic heterogeneity and spatially organized dynamical gradients at interfaces in glass-forming liquids.

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