Nucleation Definition (Chemistry and Physics)

What the Nucleation Process Is

Crystals grow by nucleation of atoms or molecules to form organized structures.
Crystals grow by nucleation of atoms or molecules to form organized structures. WIN-Initiative/Neleman / Getty Images

Nucleation Definition

Nucleation is the process where droplets of liquid can condense from a vapor, or bubbles of gas can form in a boiling liquid. Nucleation can also occur in crystal solution to grow new crystals. In general, nucleation is a self-organizing process that leads to a new thermodynamic phase or a self-assembled structure.

Nucleation is affected by the level of impurities in a system, which can provide surfaces to support assembly.

In heterogeneous nucleation, organization begins at nucleation points on surfaces. In homogeneous nucleation, organization occurs away from a surface. For example, sugar crystals growing on a string is an example of heterogeneous nucleation. Another example is the crystallization of a snowflake around a dust particle. An example of homogeneous nucleation is growth of crystals in a solution rather than a container wall.

Examples of Nucleation

Dust and pollutants provide nucleation sites for water vapor in the atmosphere to form clouds.

Seed crystals provide nucleation sites for crystal growing.

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Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "Nucleation Definition (Chemistry and Physics)." ThoughtCo, Sep. 11, 2017, thoughtco.com/definition-of-nucleation-605425. Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. (2017, September 11). Nucleation Definition (Chemistry and Physics). Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/definition-of-nucleation-605425 Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "Nucleation Definition (Chemistry and Physics)." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/definition-of-nucleation-605425 (accessed January 23, 2018).