Direct calculation of ice homogeneous nucleation rate for a molecular model of water

Amir Haji-Akbari, Pablo G. Debenedetti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

199 Scopus citations


Ice formation is ubiquitous in nature, with important consequences in a variety of environments, including biological cells, soil, aircraft, transportation infrastructure, and atmospheric clouds. However, its intrinsic kinetics and microscopic mechanism are difficult to discern with current experiments. Molecular simulations of ice nucleation are also challenging, and direct rate calculations have only been performed for coarse-grained models of water. For molecular models, only indirect estimates have been obtained, e.g., by assuming the validity of classical nucleation theory. We use a path sampling approach to perform, to our knowledge, the first direct rate calculation of homogeneous nucleation of ice in a molecular model of water. We use TIP4P/Ice, the most accurate among existing molecular models for studying ice polymorphs. By using a novel topological approach to distinguish different polymorphs, we are able to identify a freezing mechanism that involves a competition between cubic and hexagonal ice in the early stages of nucleation. In this competition, the cubic polymorph takes over because the addition of new topological structural motifs consistent with cubic ice leads to the formation of more compact crystallites. This is not true for topological hexagonal motifs, which give rise to elongated crystallites that are not able to grow. This leads to transition states that are rich in cubic ice, and not the thermodynamically stable hexagonal polymorph. This mechanism provides a molecular explanation for the earlier experimental and computational observations of the preference for cubic ice in the literature.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10582-10588
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number34
StatePublished - Aug 25 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • Ice
  • Molecular simulations
  • Nucleation
  • Statistical mechanics
  • Water


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