AIP Publishing, Journal of Chemical Physics, 11(156), p. 114502, 2022
We investigate the microscopic pathway of spontaneous crystallization in the ST2 model of water under deeply supercooled conditions via unbiased classical molecular dynamics simulations. After quenching below the liquid–liquid critical point, the ST2 model spontaneously separates into low-density liquid (LDL) and high-density liquid phases, respectively. The LDL phase, which is characterized by lower molecular mobility and enhanced structural order, fosters the formation of a sub-critical ice nucleus that, after a stabilization time, develops into the critical nucleus and grows. Polymorphic selection coincides with the development of the sub-critical nucleus and favors the formation of cubic (Ic) over hexagonal (Ih) ice. We rationalize polymorphic selection in terms of geometric arguments based on differences in the symmetry of second neighbor shells of ice Ic and Ih, which are posited to favor formation of the former. The rapidly growing critical nucleus absorbs both Ic and Ih crystallites dispersed in the liquid phase, a crystal with stacking faults. Our results are consistent with, and expand upon, recent observations of non-classical nucleation pathways in several systems.