Stick-slip behavior identified in helium cluster growth in the subsurface of tungsten: effects of cluster depth

JL Wang and LL Niu and XL Shu and Y Zhang, JOURNAL OF PHYSICS-CONDENSED MATTER, 27, 395001 (2015).

DOI: 10.1088/0953-8984/27/39/395001

We have performed a molecular dynamics study on the growth of helium (He) clusters in the subsurface of tungsten (W) (1 0 0) at 300 K, focusing on the role of cluster depth. Irregular 'stick-slip' behavior exhibited during the evolution of the He cluster growth is identified, which is due to the combined effects of the continuous cluster growth and the loop punching induced pressure relief. We demonstrate that the He cluster grows via trap-mutation and loop punching mechanisms. Initially, the self-interstitial atom SIA clusters are almost always attached to the He cluster; while they are instantly emitted to the surface once a critical cluster pressure is reached. The repetition of this process results in the He cluster approaching the surface via a 'stop-and-go' manner and the formation of surface adatom islands (surface roughening), ultimately leading to cluster bursting and He escape. We reveal that, for the Nth loop punching event, the critical size of the He cluster to trigger loop punching and the size of the emitted SIA clusters are correspondingly increased with the increasing initial cluster depth. We tentatively attribute the observed depth effects to the lower formation energies of Frenkel pairs and the greatly reduced barriers for loop punching in the stress field of the W subsurface. In addition, some intriguing features emerge, such as the morphological transformation of the He cluster from 'platelet-like' to spherical, to ellipsoidal with a 'bullet-like' tip, and finally to a 'bottle-like' shape after cluster rupture.

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