First-order phase transitions are characterized by the coexistence of several thermodynamic
phases. The simplest example is provided by the coexistence between a liquid and a vapor
phase. In this case, each of the two phases may be
viewed as the disordered phase since the two phases are not distinguished by any
More complex examples are encountered in solids, in which the first-order phase transition
exhibits a broken symmetry
and one disordered phase coexists with several ordered phases.
Now, consider any material that (i) can undergo a first-order phase transition and (ii)
is bounded by a free surface or a container wall. As one approaches the transition,
the bulk material undergoes
abrupt or discontinuous changes whereas the surface or interfacial region
continuous changes and critical phenomena.
These latter phenomena arise if the disordered phase appears in the surface region as
one approaches the phase transition
even though the bulk material remains ordered.
Surface-induced disorder and surface melting.
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