Molecular dynamics, Thermodynamic properties, Thermotropic liquid crystals, Crystallography, Free energy landscapes, Crystalline solids, Monte Carlo methods, Polymers, Supercooling, Phase transitions


Semicrystalline polymers are ubiquitous, yet despite their fundamental and industrial importance, the theory of homogeneous nucleation from a melt remains a subject of debate. A key component of the controversy is that polymer crystallization is a non-equilibrium process, making it difficult to distinguish between effects that are purely kinetic and those that arise from the underlying thermodynamics. Due to computational cost constraints, simulations of polymer crystallization typically employ non-equilibrium molecular dynamics techniques with large degrees of undercooling that further exacerbate the coupling between thermodynamics and kinetics. In a departure from this approach, in this study, we isolate the near-equilibrium nucleation behavior of a simple model of a melt of short, semiflexible oligomers. We employ several Monte Carlo methods and compute a phase diagram in the temperature–density plane along with two-dimensional free energy landscapes (FELs) that characterize the nucleation behavior. The phase diagram shows the existence of ordered nematic and crystalline phases in addition to the disordered melt phase. The minimum free energy path in the FEL for the melt–crystal transition shows a cooperative transition, where nematic order and monomer positional order move in tandem as the system crystallizes. This near-equilibrium phase transition mechanism broadly agrees with recent evidence that polymer stiffness plays an important role in crystallization but differs in the specifics of the mechanism from several recent theories. We conclude that the computation of multidimensional FELs for models that are larger and more fine-grained will be important for evaluating and refining theories of homogeneous nucleation for polymer crystallization.

Original Publication Citation

J. Chem. Phys. 155, 214902 (2021);

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date



American Institute of Physics




Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering


Chemical Engineering

University Standing at Time of Publication

Assistant Professor