Indexed on: 21 May '13Published on: 21 May '13Published in: Physical review letters
The vibrational dynamics of a permanently densified silica glass is compared to the one of an α-quartz polycrystal, the silica polymorph of the same density and local structure. The combined use of inelastic x-ray scattering experiments and ab initio numerical calculations provides compelling evidence of a transition, in the glass, from the isotropic elastic response at long wavelengths to a microscopic regime as the wavelength decreases below a characteristic length ξ of a few nanometers, corresponding to about 20 interatomic distances. In the microscopic regime the glass vibrations closely resemble those of the polycrystal, with excitations related to the acoustic and optic modes of the crystal. A coherent description of the experimental results is obtained assuming that the elastic modulus of the glass presents spatial heterogeneities of an average size a ~ ξ/2 π.