Physical vapour deposition (PVD) has settled in as an alternative method to prepare glasses with significantly enhanced properties, providing new insights into the understanding of glass transition. One of the striking properties of some PVD glasses is their transformation into liquid via a heterogeneous mechanism that initiates at surfaces/interfaces. Here, we use membrane-based fast-scanning nanocalorimetry (104 K s−1) to analyse the variables that govern the transformation mechanism of vapour-deposited toluene glasses with different stabilities. Thin films ranging from 20 to 250 nm were prepared at deposition temperatures between 0.70 and 1.15 times the glass transition temperature. We show how a propagating growth front is the initial transformation mechanism in all the vapour deposited samples, revealing a clear tendency to faster front velocities for less stable samples. Contrary to other glass-formers such as indomethacin, toluene shows a one-to-one relationship between limiting fictive temperature and front velocity. We associate this behaviour with the much simpler molecular geometry of toluene, which would prevent the presence of strong preferential molecular arrangements in the glass. However, the propagation distance of the growth front before the homogeneous transformation mechanism dominates the transition is found to be dependent on the preparation conditions rather than on the thermal stability of the glass. Understanding the link between the growth variables and the properties of PVD glasses is crucial for finding and developing potential applications of this type of glass.
This research was published in Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics as an open-access article, available here.