In recent years, considerable progress has been made in the development of novel porous materials with controlled architectures and pore sizes in the mesoporous range. An important feature of these materials is the phenomenon of adsorption hysteresis: for certain ranges of applied pressure, the amount of a molecular species adsorbed by the mesoporous host is higher on desorption than on adsorption, indicating a failure of the system to equilibrate. Although this phenomenon has been known for over a century, the underlying internal dynamics responsible for the hysteresis remain poorly understood. Here we present a combined experimental and theoretical study in which microscopic and macroscopic aspects of the relaxation dynamics associated with hysteresis are quantified by direct measurement and computer simulations of molecular models. Using nuclear magnetic resonance techniques and Vycor porous glass as a model mesoporous system, we have explored the relationship between molecular self-diffusion and global uptake dynamics. For states outside the hysteresis region, the relaxation process is found to be essentially diffusive in character; within the hysteresis region, the dynamics slow down dramatically and, at long times, are dominated by activated rearrangement of the adsorbate density within the host material.
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