Pressure-induced silica quartz amorphization studied by iterative stochastic surface walking reaction sampling
The crystal to amorphous transformation is a common phenomenon in Nature and has important impacts on material properties. Our current knowledge on such complex solid transformation processes is, however, limited because of their slow kinetics and the lack of long-range ordering in amorphous structures. To reveal the kinetics in the amorphization of solids, this work, by developing iterative reaction sampling based on the stochastic surface walking global optimization method, investigates the well-known crystal to amorphous transformation of silica (SiO2) under external pressures, the mechanism of which has long been debated for its non-equilibrium, pressure-sensitive kinetics and complex product components. Here we report for the first time the global potential energy surface (PES) and the lowest energy pathways for α-quartz amorphization from first principles. We show that the pressurization at 15 GPa, the reaction condition, can lift the quartz phase energetically close to the amorphous zone, which thermodynamically initializes the amorphization. More importantly, the large flexibility of Si cation coordination (including four, five and six coordination) results in many kinetically competing routes to more stable dense forms, including the known MI, stishovite, newly-identified MII and TI phases. All these pathways have high barriers due to the local Si–O bond breaking and are mediated by amorphous structures with five-fold Si. This causes simultaneous crystal-to-crystal and crystal-to-amorphous transitions. The high barrier and the reconstructive nature of the phase transition are the key kinetics origin for silica amorphization under pressures.