Equivalence between condensation and boiling in a Lennard-Jones fluid

I Sanchez-Burgos and PM de Hijes and P Rosales-Pelaez and C Vega and E Sanz, PHYSICAL REVIEW E, 102, 062609 (2020).

DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevE.102.062609

Condensation and boiling are phase transitions highly relevant to industry, geology, and atmospheric science. These phase transitions are initiated by the nucleation of a drop in a supersaturated vapor and of a bubble in an overstretched liquid, respectively. The surface tension between both phases, liquid and vapor, is a key parameter in the development of such nucleation stage. Whereas the surface tension can be readily measured for a flat interface, there are technical and conceptual limitations to obtain it for the curved interface of the nucleus. On the technical side, it is quite difficult to observe a critical nucleus in experiments. From a conceptual point of view, the interfacial free energy depends on the choice of the dividing surface, being the surface of tension the one relevant for nucleation. We bypass the technical limitation by performing simulations of a Lennard-Jones fluid where we equilibrate critical nuclei (both drops and bubbles). Regarding the conceptual hurdle, we find the relevant cluster size by searching the radius that correctly predicts nucleation rates and nucleation free energy barriers when combined with Classical Nucleation Theory. With such definition of the cluster size we find the same value of the surface tension for drops and bubbles of a given radius. Thus, condensation and boiling can be viewed as two sides of the same coin. Finally, we combine the data coming from drops and bubbles to obtain, via two different routes, estimates of the Tolman length, a parameter that allows describing the curvature dependence of the surface tension in a theoretical framework.

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