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Crumbling Crystals

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First Year PhD Report

Life on Earth depends upon the dissolution of ionic salts in water, particularly NaCl. However, an atomistic scale understanding of the process remains elusive. Simulations lend themselves conveniently to studying dissolution since they provide the spatio-temporal resolution that can be difficult to obtain experimentally. Nevertheless, the complexity of various inter- and intra-molecular interactions require careful treatment and long time scale simulations, both of which are typically hindered by computational expense. Here, we use advances in machine learning potential methodology to resolve for the first time at an ab initio level of theory the dissolution mechanism of NaCl in water. The picture that emerges is that of a steady ion-wise unwrapping of the crystal preceding its rapid disintegration, reminiscent of crumbling. The onset of crumbling can be explained by a strong increase in the ratio of the surface to volume of the crystal. Overall, dissolution is comprised of a series of highly dynamical microscopic sub-processes, resulting in an inherently stochastic mechanism. These atomistic level insights now pave the way for a general understanding of dissolution mechanisms in other crystals, and the methodology is primed for more complex systems of recent interest such as water/salt interfaces under flow and salt crystals under confinement.

This talk is part of the Theory - Chemistry Research Interest Group series.

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