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Physical Review C - Nuclear Physics


The effect of subcritical hadron bubbles on a first-order quark-hadron phase transition is studied. These subcritical hadron bubbles are created due to thermal fluctuations, and can introduce a finite amount of phase mixing (quark phase mixed with hadron phase) even at and above the critical temperature. For reasonable choices of surface tension and correlation length, as obtained from the lattice QCD calculations, we show that the amount of phase mixing at the critical temperature remains below the percolation threshold. Thus, as the system cools below the critical temperature, the transition proceeds through the nucleation of critical-size hadron bubbles from a metastable quark-gluon phase (QGP), within an inhomogeneous background populated by an equilibrium distribution of subcritical hadron bubbles. The inhomogeneity of the medium results in a substantial reduction of the nucleation barrier for critical bubbles. Using the corrected nucleation barrier, we estimate the amount of supercooling for different parameters controlling the phase transition, and briefly discuss its implications to cosmology and heavy-ion collisions.



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