Quantitative analysis of grain boundary diffusion, segregation and precipitation at a sub-nanometer scale

Peng, Z. and Meiners, T. and Lu, Y. and Liebscher, C.H. and Kostka, A. and Raabe, D. and Gault, B.

Volume: 225 Pages:
DOI: 10.1016/j.actamat.2021.117522
Published: 2022

Grain boundaries are intrinsic and omnipresent microstructural imperfections in polycrystalline and nanocrystalline materials. They are short-circuit diffusion paths and preferential locations for alloying elements, dopants, and impurities segregation. They also facilitate heterogeneous nucleation and the growth of secondary phases. Therefore, grain boundaries strongly influence many materials' properties and their stabilities during application. Here, we propose an approach to measure diffusion, segregation, and segregation-induced precipitation at grain boundaries at a sub-nanometer scale by combining atom probe tomography and scanning transmission electron microscopy. Nanocrystalline multilayer thin films with columnar grain structure were used as a model system as they offer a large area of random high-angle grain boundaries and inherent short diffusion distance. Our results show that the fast diffusion flux proceeds primarily through the core region of the grain boundary, which is around 1 nm. While the spatial range that the segregated solute atoms occupied is larger: below the saturation level, it is 1,2 nm; as the segregation saturates, it is 2–3.4 nm in most grain boundary areas. Above 3.4 nm, secondary phase nuclei seem to form. The observed distributions of the solutes at the matrix grain boundaries evidence that even at a single grain boundary, different regions accommodate different amounts of solute atoms and promote secondary phase nuclei with different compositions, which is caused by its complex three-dimensional topology. © 2021 Acta Materialia Inc.

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