The structure of a monolayer film of the branched alkane squalane (C30H62) adsorbed on graphite has been studied by neutron diffraction and molecular dynamics (MD) simulations and compared with a similar study of the n-alkane tetracosane (n-C24H52). Both molecules have 24 carbon atoms along their backbone and squalane has, in addition, six methyl side groups. Upon adsorption, there are significant differences as well as similarities in the behavior of these molecular films. Both molecules form ordered structures at low temperatures; however, while the melting point of the two-dimensional (2D) tetracosane film is roughly the same as the bulk melting point, the surface strongly stabilizes the 2D squalane film such that its melting point is 91 K above its value in bulk. Therefore, squalane, like tetracosane, will be a poor lubricant in those nanoscale devices that require a fluid lubricant at room temperature. The neutron diffraction data show that the translational order in the squalane monolayer is significantly less than in the tetracosane monolayer. The authors' MD simulations suggest that this is caused by a distortion of the squalane molecules upon adsorption on the graphite surface. When the molecules are allowed to relax on the surface, they distort such that all six methyl groups point away from the surface. This results in a reduction in the monolayer's translational order characterized by a decrease in its coherence length and hence a broadening of the diffraction peaks. The MD simulations also show that the melting mechanism in the squalane monolayer is the same footprint reduction mechanism found in the tetracosane monolayer, where a chain melting drives the lattice melting.
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