Molecular mechanism of the expansion of silica glass upon exposure to moisture

Stephen H. Garofalini, Jesse Lentz, Matthew Homann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Molecular dynamics simulations show that the expansion of silica glass occurs by the presence of the hydroxyl (SiOH) groups present in the glass as opposed to intact water (H2O) molecules, providing an accurate molecular description of the experimentally observed volume changes in silica glass exposed to water. Using a robust and accurate reactive potential, the simulations show that the expansion is caused by the rupture of siloxane (Si–O–Si) linkages in the glass via reactions with water molecules, forming SiOHs. Such reactions remove smaller rings and form larger rings, with a decrease in the overall number of rings smaller than a prescribed large ring size in comparison to dry glasses. This change in ring structure overcomes the inherently stronger hydrogen bonding in the glasses containing SiOH in comparison to the glasses containing predominantly intact H2O molecules. This stronger H-bonding of the SiOH also causes a shift to lower frequencies in the high-frequency OH vibrational spectrum for the silanols, as shown in previous ab-initio calculations. This introduces a question about assuming the lower frequency part of the high-frequency peak is only due to intact H2O molecules. A slight decrease in volume occurred in the glasses containing the largest concentration of intact H2O molecules. There is no change in the ring size distribution between the H2O glasses and dry glasses. Rather, the slight decrease in volume in the H2O system is caused by a decrease in siloxane bond angles caused by the formation of H-bonds between the H2O molecules and the glass O in the siloxane cages surrounding the H2O molecules.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2421-2431
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of the American Ceramic Society
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 1 2020


  • glass
  • silica
  • simulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ceramics and Composites
  • Materials Chemistry

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