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Role of pre-ordered liquid in the selection mechanism of crystal polymorphs during nucleation
We investigate the atomistic mechanism of homogeneous nucleation during solidification in molybdenum employing transition path sampling. The mechanism is characterized by the formation of a pre-structured region of high bond-orientational order in the supercooled liquid followed by the emergence of the crystalline bulk phase within the center of the growing solid cluster. This precursor plays a crucial role in the process as it provides a diffusive interface between the liquid and crystalline core, which lowers the interfacial free energy and facilitates the formation of the bulk phase. Furthermore, the structural features of the pre-ordered regions are distinct from the liquid and solid phases and preselect the specific polymorph that nucleates. The similarity in the nucleation mechanism of Mo with that of metals that exhibit different crystalline bulk phases indicates that the formation of a precursor is a general feature observed in these materials. The strong influence of the structural characteristics of the precursors on the final crystalline bulk phase demonstrates that for the investigated system, polymorph selection takes place in the very early stages of nucleation.