Molecular simulation of thin liquid films: Thermal fluctuations and instability

YX Zhang and JE Sprittles and DA Lockerby, PHYSICAL REVIEW E, 100, 023108 (2019).

DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevE.100.023108

The instability of a thin liquid film on a solid surface is studied both by molecular dynamics simulations (MD) and a stochastic thin-film equation (STF), which models thermal fluctuations with white noise. A linear stability analysis of the STF allows us to derive a power spectrum for the surface fluctuations, which is quantitatively validated against the spectrum observed in MD. Thermal fluctuations are shown to be critical to the dynamics of nanoscale films. Compared to the classical instability mechanism, which is driven by disjoining pressure, fluctuations (a) can massively amplify the instability, (b) cause the fluctuation wavelength that is dominant to evolve in time (a single fastest-growing mode does not exist), and (c) decrease the critical wavelength so that classically stable films can be ruptured.

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