Observation of glassy state relaxation during annealing of frozen sugar solutions by X-ray computed tomography

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Glassy phase formation in a frozen product determines various properties of the freeze-dried products. When an aqueous solution is subjected to freezing, a glassy phase forms as a consequence of freeze-concentration. During post-freezing annealing, the relaxation of the glassy phase and the ripening of ice crystals (i.e. Ostwald ripening) spontaneously occur, where the kinetics are controlled by the annealing and glass transition temperatures. This study was motivated to observe the progress of glassy state relaxation separate from ice coarsening during annealing. X-ray computed tomography (CT) was used to observe a frozen and post-freezing annealed solutions by using monochromatized X-ray from the synchrotron radiation. CT images were successfully obtained, and the frozen matrix were analyzed based on the gray level values that were equivalent to the linear X-ray attenuation coefficients of the observed matters. The CT images obtained from rapidly frozen sucrose and dextrin solutions with different concentrations gave clear linear relationships between the linear X-ray attenuation coefficients values and the solute concentrations. It was confirmed that the glassy state relaxation progressed as increasing annealing time, and this trend was larger in the order of the glass transition temperature of the maximally freeze-concentrated phase. The sucrose-water system required nearly 20 h of annealing time at −5 °C for the completion of the glassy phase relaxation, whereas dextrin-water systems required much longer periods because of their higher glass transition temperatures. The trends of ice coarsening, however, did not perfectly correspond to the trends of the relaxation, suggesting that the glassy phase relaxation and Ostwald ripening would jointly control the ice crystal growth/ripening kinetics, and the dominant mechanism differed by the annealing stage.

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