Atomic scale understanding of phase stability and decomposition of a nanocrystalline CrMnFeCoNi Cantor alloy

Li, Y.J. and Savan, A. and Ludwig, A.

Volume: 119 Pages:
DOI: 10.1063/5.0069107
Published: 2021

High entropy alloys (HEAs) provide superior mechanical and functional properties. However, these advantages may disappear when a metastable single-phase solid solution decomposes at low temperatures upon long-term annealing. Therefore, understanding the underlying phase separation mechanisms is important for the design of new HEAs with controlled properties. In the current work, the thermal stability of a nanocrystalline CrMnFeCoNi HEA was investigated at different annealing conditions using a combinatorial processing platform, involving fast and parallel synthesis of nanocrystalline thin films, short annealing time for a rapid phase evolution, and direct characterization by atom probe tomography. The microstructural features of the decomposed CrMnFeCoNi alloy as well as its decomposition process were analyzed in terms of elemental distributions at the near-atomic scale. The results show that the segregation of Ni and Mn to grain boundaries in the initial single-phase alloy is a prerequisite and is observed to be the only occurring physical process at the early stage of phase decomposition. When the concentrations of Ni and Mn reach a certain value, phase decomposition starts and a MnNi-rich phase forms at grain boundaries. Next, two Cr-rich phases form at the interface between the MnNi-rich phase and the matrix. Meanwhile, a FeCo-rich phase forms in the grain interior. Based on these observations, the underlying mechanisms involving nucleation, diffusivity as well as thermodynamic considerations were discussed. © 2021 Author(s).

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