Diffusion processes are widespread in biological and chemical systems, where they play a fundamental role in the exchange of substances at the cellular level and in determining the rate of chemical reactions. Recently, the classical picture that portrays diffusion as random uncorrelated motion of molecules has been revised, when it was shown that giant non-equilibrium fluctuations develop during diffusion processes. Under microgravity conditions and at steady-state, non-equilibrium fluctuations exhibit scale invariance and their size is only limited by the boundaries of the system. In this work, we investigate the onset of non-equilibrium concentration fluctuations induced by thermophoretic diffusion in microgravity, a regime not accessible to analytical calculations but of great relevance for the understanding of several natural and technological processes. A combination of state of the art simulations and experiments allows us to attain a fully quantitative description of the development of fluctuations during transient diffusion in microgravity. Both experiments and simulations show that during the onset the fluctuations exhibit scale invariance at large wave vectors. In a broader range of wave vectors simulations predict a spinodal-like growth of fluctuations, where the amplitude and length-scale of the dominant mode are determined by the thickness of the diffuse layer.
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