Glassy interfacial dynamics of Ni nanoparticles: Part II Discrete breathers as an explanation of two-level energy fluctuations

H Zhang and JF Douglas, SOFT MATTER, 9, 1266-1280 (2013).

DOI: 10.1039/c2sm27533c

Recent studies of the dynamics of diverse condensed amorphous materials have indicated significant heterogeneity in the local mobility and a progressive increase in collective particle motion upon cooling that takes the form of string-like particle rearrangements. In a previous paper (Part I), we examined the possibility that fluctuations in potential energy E and particle mobility mu associated with this 'dynamic heterogeneity' might offer information about the scale of collective motion in glassy materials based on molecular dynamics simulations of the glassy interfacial region of Ni nanoparticles (NPs) at elevated temperatures. We found that the noise exponent associated with fluctuations in the Debye-Waller factor, a mobility related quantity, was directly proportional to the scale of collective motion L under a broad range of conditions, but the noise exponent associated with E(t) fluctuations was seemingly unrelated to L. In the present work, we focus on this unanticipated difference between potential energy and mobility fluctuations by examining these quantities at an atomic scale. We find that the string atoms exhibit a jump-like motion between two well-separated bands of energy states and the rate at which these jumps occur seems to be consistent with the phenomenology of the 'slow- beta' relaxation process of glass-forming liquids. Concurrently with these local E(t) jumps, we also find 'quake-like' particle displacements having a power-law distribution in magnitude so that particle displacement fluctuations within the strings are strikingly different from local E(t) fluctuations. An analysis of these E(t) fluctuations suggests that we are dealing with 'discrete breather' excitations in which large energy fluctuations develop in arrays of non-linear oscillators by virtue of large anharmonicity in the interparticle interactions and discreteness effects associated with particle packing. We quantify string collective motions on a fast caging timescale (picoseconds) and explore the significance of these collective motions for understanding the Boson peak of glass-forming materials.

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