Melting dynamics of ice in the mesoscopic regime [Chemistry]
How does a crystal melt? How long does it take for melt nuclei to grow? The melting mechanisms have been addressed by several theoretical and experimental works, covering a subnanosecond time window with sample sizes of tens of nanometers and thus suitable to determine the onset of the process but unable to unveil the following dynamics. On the other hand, macroscopic observations of phase transitions, with millisecond or longer time resolution, account for processes occurring at surfaces and time limited by thermal contact with the environment. Here, we fill the gap between these two extremes, investigating the melting of ice in the entire mesoscopic regime. A bulk ice Ih or ice VI sample is homogeneously heated by a picosecond infrared pulse, which delivers all of the energy necessary for complete melting. The evolution of melt/ice interfaces thereafter is monitored by Mie scattering with nanosecond resolution, for all of the time needed for the sample to reequilibrate. The growth of the liquid domains, over distances of micrometers, takes hundreds of nanoseconds, a time orders of magnitude larger than expected from simple H-bond dynamics.
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