Computational Study of the Structure and Mechanical Properties of the Molecular Crystal RDX

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Molecular crystals constitute a class of materials commonly used as active pharmaceutical ingredients, energetic and high explosive materials. Like simpler crystalline materials, they possess a repeating lattice structure. However, the complexity of the structure - due to having several entire molecules instead of atoms at each lattice site - significantly complicates the relationship between the crystal structure and mechanical properties. Of particular interest to molecular crystals are the mechanically activated processes initiated by large deformations. These include polymorph transitions, slip deformation, cleavage fracture, or the transition to disordered states. Activation of slip systems is generally the preferred mode of deformation in molecular crystals because the long range order of the crystal and its associated properties are maintained. These processes change the crystal structure and affect the physiological absorption of advanced pharmaceutical ingredients and the decomposition of high explosives.

This work used molecular dynamics to study the energetic molecule RDX, C3H6N6O6, as a model molecular crystal that is a commonly used military high explosive. Molecular dynamics is used to determine the crystal response to deformation by determination of elastic constants, polymorph transitions, cleavage properties, and energy barriers to slip. The cleavage and the free surface energy are determined through interface decohesion simulations and the attachment energy method. The energy barriers to slip are determined through the generalized stacking fault (GSF) procedure. To account for the steric contributions and elastic shearing due to the presence of flexible molecules, a modified calculation procedure for the GSF energy is proposed that enables the distinction of elastic shear energy from the energy associated with the interfacial displacement discontinuity at the slip plane. The unstable stacking fault energy from the GSF simulations is compared to the free surface energy to differentiate cleavage and slip planes. The results are found to be largely in agreement with available experimental data.