Role of Surface Chemistry in Grain Adhesion and Dissipation during Collisions of Silica Nanograins

Abrar H. Quadery1, Baochi D. Doan2, William C. Tucker1, Adrienne R. Dove1, and Patrick K. Schelling1,3
Astrophysical Journal 844, 105 Link to Article [https://doi.org/10.3847/1538-4357/aa7890]
1Department of Physics, University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL 32816-2385, USA
2Department of Materials Science and Engineering, University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL 32816-2385, USA
3Advanced Materials Processing and Analysis Center, University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL 32804, USA

The accretion of dust grains to form larger objects, including planetesimals, is a central problem in planetary science. It is generally thought that weak van der Waals interactions play a role in accretion at small scales where gravitational attraction is negligible. However, it is likely that in many instances, chemical reactions also play an important role, and the particular chemical environment on the surface could determine the outcomes of dust grain collisions. Using atomic-scale simulations of collisional aggregation of nanometer-sized silica (SiO2) grains, we demonstrate that surface hydroxylation can act to weaken adhesive forces and reduce the ability of mineral grains to dissipate kinetic energy during collisions. The results suggest that surface passivation of dangling bonds, which generally is quite complete in an Earth environment, should tend to render mineral grains less likely to adhere during collisions. It is shown that during collisions, interactions scale with interparticle distance in a manner consistent with the formation of strong chemical bonds. Finally, it is demonstrated that in the case of collisions of nanometer-scale grains with no angular momentum, adhesion can occur even for relative velocities of several kilometers per second. These results have significant implications for early planet formation processes, potentially expanding the range of collision velocities over which larger dust grains can form.

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