Grain boundary stability governs hardening and softening in extremely fine nanograined metals

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Science  24 Mar 2017:
Vol. 355, Issue 6331, pp. 1292-1296
DOI: 10.1126/science.aal5166

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Nanograined metals avoid going soft

The Hall-Petch relationship links a metal's increasing hardness with decreasing grain size, but it breaks down when grains become very small. This is unfortunate because nanograined metals could otherwise be extremely hard. Hu et al. found a way to circumvent this problem in a set of nickel-molybdenum alloys. They altered the molybdenum composition and annealed the samples at just the right temperature, which stabilized the grain boundaries in their nanograined samples. This allowed hardness to keep increasing with decreasing grain size, which could provide a route for designing superhard coatings.

Science, this issue p. 1292


Conventional metals become harder with decreasing grain sizes, following the classical Hall-Petch relationship. However, this relationship fails and softening occurs at some grain sizes in the nanometer regime for some alloys. In this study, we discovered that plastic deformation mechanism of extremely fine nanograined metals and their hardness are adjustable through tailoring grain boundary (GB) stability. The electrodeposited nanograined nickel-molybdenum (Ni–Mo) samples become softened for grain sizes below 10 nanometers because of GB-mediated processes. With GB stabilization through relaxation and Mo segregation, ultrahigh hardness is achieved in the nanograined samples with a plastic deformation mechanism dominated by generation of extended partial dislocations. Grain boundary stability provides an alternative dimension, in addition to grain size, for producing novel nanograined metals with extraordinary properties.

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