Modelling the Melting of Gallium Clusters: A Path to Understanding Molecular Solids
Gallium is a molecular solid with many unique properties. Comprised of Ga2 dimers but exhibiting metal-like electronic characteristics, gallium may be deemed a molecular metal. The role of this dual covalent-metallic nature may explain gallium’s fascinating thermodynamic behaviour. While bulk gallium melts at 303 K, clusters with only 10’s of atoms melt at temperatures between 500 and 800 K, according to experiment. The measured specific heat curves exhibit a strong size-sensitivity, where the addition of a single atom can alter the melting temperature by up to 100 K. This research addresses the relationship of electronic structure to the melting behaviour in small gallium clusters through a parallel tempering implementation of first-principles molecular dynamics simulations. These simulations cover 11 cluster sizes and two charge states, including neutral clusters sized 7-12 atoms and cationic clusters sized 32-35 atoms. The modelling of small clusters sets a lower size limit for melting and illustrates that greater-than-bulk melting is not universal for small gallium clusters. The larger cluster sizes allow for a direct comparison to experimental data. Each simulation reveals that the clusters have a non-covalent nature more similar to the metallic surface structure of bulk gallium than its covalently bonded interior. The dramatic lowering of melting temperatures and cluster stabilities with single atom additions supports the conclusion that the difference in the nature of bonding between bulk and clusters accounts for the melting temperature discrepancy. Finally, in order to gain additional insight into the nature of bonding in molecular solids, the cohesive energies of the solid halogens are calculated by the method of increments. These calculations investigate the relative N-body correlation energy contributions to the total cohesive energy for solid Cl2, Br2 and I2.