We probe the mechanical response of two supercooled liquids, glycerol and ortho-terphenyl, by conducting rheological experiments at very weak stresses. We find a complex fluid behavior suggesting the gradual emergence of an extended, delicate solid-like network in both materials in the supercooled state—i.e., above the glass transition. This network stiffens as it ages, and very early in this process it already extends over macroscopic distances, conferring all well known features of soft glassy rheology (yield-stress, shear thinning, aging) to the supercooled liquids. Such viscoelastic behavior of supercooled molecular glass formers is difficult to observe because the large stresses in conventional rheology can easily shear-melt the solid-like structure. The work presented here, combined with evidence for long-lived heterogeneity from previous single-molecule studies [Zondervan R, Kulzer F, Berkhout GCG, Orrit M (2007) Local viscosity of supercooled glycerol near T g probed by rotational diffusion of ensembles and single dye molecules. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 104:12628–12633], has a profound impact on the understanding of the glass transition because it casts doubt on the widely accepted assumption of the preservation of ergodicity in the supercooled state.
|Number of pages
|Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS)
|Published - 2008