Role of disordered bipolar complexions on the sulfur embrittlement of nickel general grain boundaries

T Hu and SF Yang and NX Zhou and YY Zhang and J Luo, NATURE COMMUNICATIONS, 9, 2764 (2018).

DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-05070-2

Minor impurities can cause catastrophic fracture of normally ductile metals. Here, a classic example is represented by the sulfur embrittlement of nickel, whose atomic-level mechanism has puzzled researchers for nearly a century. In this study, coupled aberration- corrected electron microscopy and semi-grand-canonical-ensemble atomistic simulation reveal, unexpectedly, the universal formation of amorphous-like and bilayer-like facets at the same general grain boundaries. Challenging the traditional view, the orientation of the lower-Miller-index grain surface, instead of the misorientation, dictates the interfacial structure. We also find partial bipolar structural orders in both amorphous-like and bilayer-like complexions (a.k.a. thermodynamically two-dimensional interfacial phases), which cause brittle inter-granular fracture. Such bipolar, yet largely disordered, complexions can exist in and affect the properties of various other materials. Beyond the embrittlement mechanism, this study provides deeper insight to better understand abnormal grain growth in sulfur-doped Ni, and generally enriches our fundamental understanding of performance-limiting and more disordered interfaces.

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