Interfacial concentration effect facilitates heterogeneous nucleation from solution

David McKechnie, Samira Anker, Saraf Zahid, Paul A. Mulheran, Jan Sefcik, Karen Johnston

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
18 Downloads (Pure)


Crystal nucleation from solution plays an important role in environmental,
biological, and industrial processes and mainly occurs at interfaces, although the mechanisms are not well understood. We performed nucleation experiments on glycine aqueous solutions and found that an oil−solution interface dramatically accelerates glycine nucleation compared to an air−solution interface. This is surprising given that nonpolar, hydrophobic oil (tridecane) would not be expected to favor heterogeneous nucleation of highly polar, hydrophilic glycine. Molecular dynamics simulations found significantly enhanced vs depleted glycine concentrations at the oil−solution vs air−solution interfaces, respectively. We propose that this interfacial concentration effect facilitates heterogeneous nucleation, and that it is due to dispersion interactions. This interface effect is distinct from previously described mechanisms, including surface functionalization, templating, and confinement and is expected to be present in a wide range of solution systems. This work provides new insight that is essential for understanding and controlling heterogeneous nucleation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2263-2271
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Physical Chemistry Letters
Issue number6
Early online date28 Feb 2020
Publication statusPublished - 19 Mar 2020


  • crystal nucleation
  • glycine aqueous
  • oil interface
  • molecular dynamics simulations
  • heterogeneous nucleation


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