Nucleation, kinetics and morphology of displacive phase transformations in iron

A.S.J. Suiker, B.J. Thijsse

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An extensive, systematic molecular dynamics (MD) study is performed for analysing the nucleation, kinetics and morphology characteristics of thermally-induced, displacive phase transformations from face-centered cubic (fcc) to body-centered cubic (bcc) iron. At the atomic level these transformation characteristics are influenced by a number of factors, including (i) the appearance of free surfaces, (ii) the initial presence of fcc-bcc grain boundaries, (iii) the existence of point defects (i.e., atomic vacancies) near a grain boundary, (iv) the initial thermal velocities of the atoms, and (v) the specific interatomic potential used. Other MD studies that capture the overall transformation behaviour of iron well have often underestimated or ignored the influence by these factors on the transformation response, with the risk of putting the accuracy, generality and physical explanation of the MD results on loose grounds. The present research illustrates the relative contribution of each of the above factors by means of a detailed comparison study for three different interatomic potentials. The accuracy of the interatomic potentials is established by validating for the fcc and bcc phases the calculated elastic moduli, cohesive energy, vacancy formation energy and interfacial energy against experimental and ab initio data reported in the literature. The importance of calibrating material data of \emph{both} the stable bcc phase and the metastable fcc phase - instead of the stable bcc phase only - is demonstrated. The numerical results call for general caution when interpreting phenomena that start close to instability points and therefore are sensitive to small disturbances; a large spread in the overall transformation time is found under different initial thermal velocities, interfacial lattice incoherence, boundary conditions (free vs. periodic), and interatomic potentials, where for completely transformed atomic systems the discrepancy between the maximum and minimum transformation time appears to be more than a factor of 150. The transformation time is phenomenologically related to the overall activation energy and the cohesive energy difference of the fcc and bcc phases, which, beyond a certain combination of values, may even prevent the transformation process from occurring. Also, the morphology of the bcc product phase is remarkably sensitive to the type of boundary conditions and the choice of interatomic potential, while the influence by both the set of initial thermal velocities and the interfacial lattice incoherence only becomes apparent for specific atomic samples that transform relatively slowly. The presence of fcc-bcc grain boundaries increases the spatial heterogeneity of transformation events, with the appearance of an increasing number of vacancies at the grain boundary giving rise to a larger overall transformation time. The 10 main results following from the present MD study are conveniently summarised at the end of this communication.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2273-2301
Number of pages29
JournalJournal of the Mechanics and Physics of Solids
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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