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Structure of liquid–vapor interfaces: perspectives from liquid state theory, large-scale simulations, and potential grazing-incidence X-ray diffraction

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  • Grazing-incidence X-ray diffraction (GIXRD) is a scattering technique which allows one to characterize the structure of fluid interfaces down to the molecular scale, including the measurement of the surface tension and of the interface roughness. However, the corresponding standard data analysis at non-zero wave numbers has been criticized as to be inconclusive because the scattering intensity is polluted by the unavoidable scattering from the bulk. Here we overcome this ambiguity by proposing a physically consistent model of the bulk contribution which is based on a minimal set of assumptions of experimental relevance. To this end, we derive an explicit integral expression for the background scattering, which can be determined numerically from the static structure factors of the coexisting bulk phases as independent input. Concerning the interpretation of GIXRD data inferred from computer simulations, we account also for the finite sizes of the bulk phases, which are unavoidable in simulations. The corresponding leading-order correction beyond the dominant contribution to the scattered intensity is revealed by asymptotic analysis, which is characterized by the competition between the linear system size and the X-ray penetration depth in the case of simulations. Specifically, we have calculated the expected GIXRD intensity for scattering at the planar liquid--vapor interface of Lennard-Jones fluids with truncated pair interactions via extensive, high-precision simulations. The reported data cover interfacial and bulk properties of fluid states along the whole liquid--vapor coexistence line. A sensitivity analysis demonstrates the robustness of our findings concerning the detailed definition of the mean interface position. We conclude that previous claims of an enhanced surface tension at mesoscopic scales are amenable to unambiguous tests via scattering experiments.

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Author:Felix Höfling, Siegfried Dietrich
Document Type:Article
Year of first publication:2023
ArXiv Id:http://arxiv.org/abs/2311.06425
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