Deformation of a Liquid Near an AFM Tip: Molecular Dynamics Approach

L Hilaire and B Siboulet and R Ledesma-Alonso and D Legendre and P Tordjeman and S Charton and JF Dufreche, LANGMUIR, 36, 8993-9004 (2020).

DOI: 10.1021/acs.langmuir.0c00023

The interaction between an atomic force microscopy (AFM) probe and a thin film of water deposited over a flat substrate is studied using molecular dynamics (MD). The effects of the film thickness and the probe radius on both the deformation height of the liquid interface and the distance of the jump to contact at which the liquid comes in direct contact with the probe are investigated. The dynamics of the surface deformation and the role of interface fluctuations are studied in detail. The systems considered belong to the thin-film regime described in a semianalytical model previously established by Ledesma-Alonso et al. (Langmuir 2013, 29, 7749-7757). MD simulations predict that for shallow films, both the distance at which the jump to contact occurs and the surface maximal deformation height increase steadily with the layer thickness regardless of the probe radius, which is in agreement with the previously proposed theoretical model. The deformation of the surface was shown to be unstable because of the strong effect of thermal fluctuations. For each of the considered systems, the film thickness was such that interface fluctuations induced the jump to contact. The comparison of the deformation obtained in MD with the profiles predicted by the continuous model points out the complementarity between the two approaches. The results of the molecular approach not only are consistent with those of the continuous model but also provide more information on the description of nanoscale phenomena. In particular, MD results point out the importance of fluctuations when it comes to the description of the particular dynamics of nanosystems involving soft interfaces. This shows the need to improve continuous models by complementing them with a molecular approach for a better accuracy.

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