On the stability of sp-valent materials at high pressure
The behavior of sp-valent solids and liquids under compression is a field of intense re- search. At high pressure, they often undergo phase transitions to new structures with novel properties such as superconductivity, high-energy density, and superhardness. Furthermore, knowledge of these materials is essential for understanding the structure and evolution of planets. Molecular systems such as nitrogen and carbon dioxide are particularly interesting as energetic materials: their strong molecular bonds break under compression spawning transformations to exotic polymeric phases. We have used first-principles theory and molecular dynamics to make predictions for the properties of dense nitrogen, carbon dioxide, magnesium silicate, and magnesium oxide. For nitrogen, we provide evidence for a rare first-order liquid-liquid phase transition; only the second such transition seen in an elemental fluid. New finite-temperature structure search techniques have been developed and applied to predict a thermodynamically stable polymeric metal phase of solid nitrogen. Regarding carbon dioxide, we have computed its high-pressure liquid phase diagram over a broad pressure-temperature range, revealing rich structural diversity. We have also designed new free energy methods to explore the stability of free CO2 under deep mantle conditions. Lastly, first-principles molecular dynamics and finite-temperature free energy methods were used to predict a high-pressure phase separation transition in liquid MgSiO3 and also characterize the high-pressure phase diagram of MgO, including its melting curve.