Previous studies showed that monomolecular films of extracted calf surfactant collapse at the equilibrium spreading pressure during quasi-static compressions but become metastable at much higher surface pressures when compressed faster than a threshold rate. To determine the mechanism by which the films become metastable, we studied single-component films of 1-palmitoyl-2-oleoyl phosphatidylcholine (POPC). Initial experiments confirmed similar metastability of POPC if compressed above a threshold rate. Measurements at different surface pressures then showed that rates of collapse, although initially increasing above the equilibrium spreading pressure, reached a sharply defined maximum and then slowed considerably. When heated, rapidly compressed films recovered their ability to collapse with no discontinuous change in area, arguing that the metastability does not reflect transition of the POPC film to a new phase. These observations indicate that in several respects, the supercompression of POPC monolayers resembles the supercooling of three-dimensional liquids toward a glass transition.
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