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Size-Dependent Phase Stability of a Molecular Nanocrystal: a Proxy for Investigating the Early Stages of Crystallization

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article


Journal publication date09/2011
JournalChemistry - A European Journal
Journal number40
Number of pages7
Original languageEnglish


We make the link between the size-dependent phase stability of a nanocrystal and the phase-transition behavior of emerging crystallites during the earliest stages of crystallization, by using the former as a proxy for the latter. We outline an extension of the classical nucleation theory to describe crystal nucleation and subsequent transformations of competing polymorphic phases that characterize Ostwald's rule of stages. The theoretical framework reveals that the relative stability of the competing phases is a function of cluster size, which in turn varies with time, and therefore explains the complex transformation behavior observed for some systems. We investigated the stability of a nanocrystal of DL-norleucine by means of molecular simulation as a proxy for post-nucleation phase-transformation behavior in emerging crystallites. The simulations reveal that, for nanocrystals, the surface energy of the transition state of a transformation can dominate the barrier to phase change, thus causing metastable phases to be stabilized, not because they are thermodynamically stable, but rather due to kinetic hindering. Therefore, in the context of the earliest stages of crystal growth, not only does phase stability vary as a function of cluster size, and hence time, but thermodynamically feasible transformations are also prone to kinetic hindering.