Using large-scale molecular dynamics simulations, we investigate the surface properties of lithium, sodium, and potassium silicate glasses containing 25 mol % of alkali oxide. The comparison of two types of surfaces, a melt-formed surface (MS) and a fracture surface (FS), demonstrates that the influence of the alkali modifier on the surface properties depends strongly on the nature of the surface. The FS exhibits a monotonic increase of modifier concentration with increasing alkali size while the MS shows a saturation of alkali concentration when going from Na to K glasses, indicating the presence of competing mechanisms that influence the properties of a MS. For the FS, we find that larger alkali ions reduce the concentration of under-coordinated Si atoms and increase the fraction of two-membered rings, implying an enhanced chemical reactivity of the surface. For both types of surfaces, the roughness is found to increase with alkali size, with the effect being more pronounced for the FS than for the MS. The height–height correlation functions of the surfaces show a scaling behavior that is independent of the alkali species considered: The ones for the MS are compatible with the prediction of the frozen capillary wave theory while the ones for the FS show a logarithmic growth, i.e., on the nanoscale these surfaces are not self-affine fractals. The influence of the modifier on the surface properties are rationalized in terms of the interplay between multiple factors involving the size of the ions, bond strength, and charge balance on the surface.

You do not currently have access to this content.