PhD Thesis Defenses

X-Ray Investigations of the Liquid-Liquid Critical Point Hypothesis in Supercooled Water

This thesis presents experimental x-ray scattering studies on supercooled liquid water. A liquid-liquid transition between two structurally distinct configurations has been found in deeply supercooled water, indicating the existence of a liquidliquid critical point. The experiments were performed at large-scale x-ray facilities, mostly using free electron x-ray lasers including PAL-XFEL in Korea, SACLA in Japan, LCLS in the USA, SwissFEL in Switzerland and European XFEL in Germany, as well as using synchrotrons including APS in the USA, PETRA III in Germany and ESRF in France. Two conceptually different experimental approaches have been used to investigate the metastable phase of supercooled water. The first approach is based on rapid evaporative cooling of μm-sized water droplets that are injected into a vacuum chamber. Using this method, supercooled liquid water samples with temperatures down to approximately 227 K have been obtained, with the lowest temperature limited by homogeneous ice crystallization occurring after just a few milliseconds. In a second approach, structurally arrested high-pressure and therefore high-density amorphous ice samples are heated by an ultrafast infrared laser pulse. The fast heating melts the ice into a corresponding high-density liquid. At short time delays between the heating laser pulse and a subsequent x-ray probe pulse, the supercooled liquefied sample still experiences the high internal pressure of the initial state. At longer pump-probe delay times the supercooled water sample releases its internal pressure through structural relaxation. Hence, varying the pump-probe delay allows to probe the sample at different pressures. Together, these two approaches have been used to access a region within the metastable phase diagram of supercooled water that has previously been inaccessible. Using elastic x-ray scattering measurements as a structural probe of the liquid, we identified the existence of a liquid-liquid phase transition in deeply supercooled water. The observed phase transition is interpreted as the transition between a high-density and a low-density liquid phase. At high pressure this phase transition is discontinuous or first-order like, featuring a characteristic double-peak feature in the observed x-ray scattering intensity of the first diffraction maxima. At ambient pressure, however, we observe a continuous shift of the first diffraction maxima that is consistent with a continuous or second-order phase transition between the two liquids. Further evidence of a continuous phase transition at ambient pressure is seen in the temperature dependent maxima of the measured correlation length, isothermal compressibility and heat capacity, which indicate the existence of a Widom line. In summary, the experiments support the existence of a liquid-liquid critical point where the experimentally observed Widom line and phase coexistence line would both meet. The main result, however, is the first experimental observation of a liquid-liquid transition within a pure liquid.