Melting from one to two to three dimensions
The transformation of a crystalline solid into a liquid, seeming to have no precursor and no intermediate states, has challenged scientists for over a century. The search for the fundamental mechanism stimulated the development of quantum mechanics, concepts of the roles of dimensionality and topological order in condensed matter, and experimental techniques to test the theories. We now understand that the transition begins at lower temperatures than the melting point of the bulk. It starts at the edges of crystal planes, progresses across the surface, evolves into the successive melting of atomic layers, and ends in bulk phase coexistence. The memory of the process remains within a few molecular distances at the crystal–melt interface.