Monday, May 25, 2015

Direct measurements of growing amorphous order and non-monotonic dynamic correlations in a colloidal glass-former

K. Hima Nagamanasa, Shreyas Gokhale, A. K. Sood & Rajesh Ganapathy

The transformation of flowing liquids into rigid glasses is thought to involve increasingly cooperative relaxation dynamics as the temperature approaches that of the glass transition. However, the precise nature of this motion is unclear, and a complete understanding of vitrification thus remains elusive. Of the numerous theoretical perspectives devised to explain the process, random first-order theory (RFOT) is a well-developed thermodynamic approach, which predicts a change in the shape of relaxing regions as the temperature is lowered. However, the existence of an underlying ‘ideal’ glass transition predicted by RFOT remains debatable, largely because the key microscopic predictions concerning the growth of amorphous order and the nature of dynamic correlations lack experimental verification. Here, using holographic optical tweezers, we freeze a wall of particles in a two-dimensional colloidal glass-forming liquid and provide direct evidence for growing amorphous order in the form of a static point-to-set length. We uncover the non-monotonic dependence of dynamic correlations on area fraction and show that this non-monotonicity follows directly from the change in morphology and internal structure of cooperatively rearranging regions. Our findings support RFOT and thereby constitute a crucial step in distinguishing between competing theories of glass formation.

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