A common feature of glasses is the “boson peak”, observed as an excess in the heat capacity over the crystal or as an additional peak in the terahertz vibrational spectrum. The microscopic origins of this peak are not well understood; the emergence of locally ordered structures has been put forward as a possible candidate. Here, we show that depolarised Raman scattering in liquids consisting of highly symmetric molecules can be used to isolate the boson peak, allowing its detailed observation from the liquid into the glass. The boson peak in the vibrational spectrum matches the excess heat capacity. As the boson peak intensifies on cooling, wide-angle x-ray scattering shows the simultaneous appearance of a pre-peak due to molecular clusters consisting of circa 20 molecules. Atomistic molecular dynamics simulations indicate that these are caused by over-coordinated molecules. These findings represent an essential step toward our understanding of the physics of vitrification.
(Hopefully last) response to one reviewer's comments, shorter abstract, error bars in figure 2, and minot tweaks to most figures