By molecular dynamics (MD) simulations we study the crystallization process in a model system whose particles interact by a spherical pair potential with a narrow and deep attractive well adjacent to a hard repulsive core. The phase diagram of the model displays a solid-fluid equilibrium, with a metastable fluid-fluid separation. Our computations are restricted to fairly small systems (from 2592 to 10368 particles) and cover long simulation times, with constant energy trajectories extending up to 76x10(6) MD steps. By progressively reducing the system temperature below the solid-fluid line, we first observe the metastable fluid-fluid separation, occurring readily and almost reversibly upon crossing the corresponding line in the phase diagram. The nucleation of the crystal phase takes place when the system is in the two-fluid metastable region. Analysis of the temperature dependence of the nucleation time allows us to estimate directly the nucleation free energy barrier. The results are compared with the predictions of classical nucleation theory. The critical nucleus is identified, and its structure is found to be predominantly fcc. Following nucleation, the solid phase grows steadily across the system, incorporating a large number of localized and extended defects. We discuss the relaxation processes taking place both during and after the crystallization stage. The relevance of our simulation for the kinetics of protein crystallization under normal experimental conditions is discussed. (C) 2002 American Institute of Physics.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Atomic and Molecular Physics, and Optics