Single molecules reveal the dynamics of heterogeneities in a polymer at the glass transition

J Chem Phys. 2011 Jan 14;134(2):024513. doi: 10.1063/1.3516516.


The notion of heterogeneous dynamics in glasses, that is, the spatial and temporal variations of structural relaxation rates, explains many of the puzzling features of glass dynamics. The nature and the dynamics of these heterogeneities, however, have been very controversial. Single rhodamine B molecules in poly(vinyl acetate) at the glass transition reorient through sudden jumps. With a statistical search for the most likely break points in the logarithm of the ratio of the two perpendicular fluorescence polarizations, we determine the times of these angular jumps. We interpret these jumps as an indication for individual glass rearrangements in the vicinity of the probe molecule. Time-series analysis of the resulting sequence of waiting times between jumps shows that dynamic heterogeneities in the matrix exist, but are short lived. From the correlation of the logarithm of the waiting time between subsequent jumps, we determine an upper limit for the lifetime of heterogeneities in the sample. The correlation time of τ(het) = 32 s is three times shorter than the orientational correlation time of the probe molecule, τ(orient) = 90 s, in the sample at this temperature, but 13 times longer than the structural relaxation time, τ(α) = 2.5 s, estimated for this sample from dielectric experiments. We present a model for glass dynamics in which each rearrangement in one region causes a random change in the barrier height for subsequent rearrangements in a neighboring region. This model, which equates the dynamics of the heterogeneities with the dynamics of the glass itself and thus implies a factor of one between heterogeneity lifetime and structural relaxation time, successfully reproduces the statistics of the experimentally observed waiting time sequences.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Glass / chemistry
  • Molecular Dynamics Simulation*
  • Molecular Structure
  • Polyvinyls / chemistry*
  • Rhodamines / chemistry*
  • Temperature


  • Polyvinyls
  • Rhodamines
  • polyvinyl acetate
  • rhodamine B