Reducing uncertainty in simulation estimates of the surface tension through a two-scale finite-size analysis: thicker is better

JL Rivera and JF Douglas, RSC ADVANCES, 9, 35803-35812 (2019).

DOI: 10.1039/c9ra07058c

Recent simulation studies of the surface tension gamma, and other properties of thin free-standing films, have revealed unexpected finite size effects in which the variance of the properties vary monotonically with the in-plane width of the films, complicating the extrapolation of estimates of film properties to the thermodynamic limit. We carried out molecular dynamics simulations to determine the origin of this phenomenon, and to address the practical problem of developing a more reliable methodology for estimating gamma in the thermodynamic limit. We find that there are two distinct finite size effects that must be addressed in a finite size analysis of gamma in thin films. The first finite size scale is the in-plane width of the films and the second scale is the simulation cell size in the transverse direction. Increasing the first scale enhances fluctuations in gamma, measured by the standard deviation of their distribution, while increasing the second reduces gamma fluctuations due to a corresponding increased 'freedom' of the film to fluctuate out of plane. We find that using progressively large simulation cells in the transverse direction, while keeping the film width fixed to an extent in which the full bulk liquid zone is developed, allows us to obtain a smooth extrapolation to the thermodynamic limit, enabling a reduction of the gamma uncertainty to a magnitude on the order of 1% for systems having a reasonably large size, i.e., O (1 mu m).

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