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... glass molecules jam based on a fractal regime of wells within wells ...

The research confirmed that glasses form when their molecules get jammed into fractal 'wells,' as shown on the right, rather than smooth or slightly rough wells (left).

As the molecules of a glass cool from a liquid state, they jam together like squeeze sand. That jamming has a fractal regime.

One thing that sets glasses apart from other phase transitions is a lack of order among their constituent molecules. Their cooled particles become increasingly sluggish until, caged in by their neighbors, the molecules cease to move -- but in no predictable arrangement. One way for researchers to visualize this is with an energy landscape, a map of all the possible configurations of the molecules in a system.

Charbonneau said a simple energy landscape of glasses can be imagined as a series of ponds or wells. When the water is high (the temperature is warmer), the particles within float around as they please, crossing from pond to pond without problem. But as you begin to lower the water level (by lowering the temperature or increasing the density), the particles become trapped in one of the small ponds. Eventually, as the pond empties, the molecules become jammed into disordered and rigid configurations.

"Jamming is what happens when you take sand and squeeze it," Charbonneau said. "First it's easy to squeeze, and then after a while it gets very hard, and eventually it becomes impossible."

"At the bottom of these lakes or wells, what you find is variation in which particles have a force contact or bond," Charbonneau said. "So even though you start from a single configuration, as you go to the bottom or compress them, you get different realizations of which pairs of particles are actually in contact."

Charbonneau and his co-authors based in Paris and Rome showed, using computer simulations and numeric computations, that the glass molecules jam based on a fractal regime of wells within wells.

Tags: fractals, glass

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