Surface-Bulk Interplay in Vapor-Deposited Glasses: Crossover Length and the Origin of Front Transformation

Thin film stable glasses transform into a liquid by a moving front that propagates from surfaces or interfaces with higher mobility. We use calorimetric data of vapor-deposited glasses of different thicknesses and stabilities to identify the role of glassy and liquid dynamics on the transformation process. By invoking the existence of an ultrathin intermediate layer whose transformation strongly depends on the properties of both the liquid and the glass, we show that the recovery to equilibrium is driven by the mismatch in the dynamics between glass and liquid. The lifetime of this intermediate layer associated with the moving front is the geometric mean between the bulk transformation time and the alpha relaxation time. Within this view, we explain the observed dependencies of the growth front velocity and the crossover length with both stability and temperature. Extrapolation of these results points towards ordinary thin film glasses transforming via a frontlike transformation mechanism if heated sufficiently fast, establishing a close connection between vapor-deposited and liquid-cooled glasses.

This article is published in Physical Review Letters.