Geometric Frustration of Icosahedron in Metallic Glasses

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Science  26 Jul 2013:
Vol. 341, Issue 6144, pp. 376-379
DOI: 10.1126/science.1232450

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Order, Order

The structure of glassy materials, which are known to have short-range order but no long-range pattern, continues to be a puzzle. One current theory is that some glassy materials possess icosahedral ordering, a motif that cannot show translational periodicity. Hirata et al. (p. 376, published online 11 July) obtained diffraction patterns from subnanometer volumes in a metallic glass, which show some, but not all, of the expected features of an icosahedron. Simulations suggest that the patterns arise from icosahedrons distorted to include features of the face-centered cubic structure. This observation is different from the predictions of molecular dynamics simulations and provides pivotal information in understanding the competition between the formation of the globally inexpensive long-range order and the locally inexpensive short-range order.


Icosahedral order has been suggested as the prevalent atomic motif of supercooled liquids and metallic glasses for more than half a century, because the icosahedron is highly close-packed but is difficult to grow, owing to structure frustration and the lack of translational periodicity. By means of angstrom-beam electron diffraction of single icosahedra, we report experimental observation of local icosahedral order in metallic glasses. All the detected icosahedra were found to be distorted with partially face-centered cubic symmetry, presenting compelling evidence on geometric frustration of local icosahedral order in metallic glasses.

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