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Abstract

Silicon nitride based ceramics (SiAlONs); tetragonal polycrystalline zirconia (3Y‐TZP); alumina and their composites reinforced with different amount of multi‐ walled carbon‐nanotubes (CNTs) have been processed by Spark Plasma Sintering (SPS). High temperature mechanical spectroscopy measurements were performed in each material between room temperature and 1600 K. In each of these materials, anelastic and viscoplastic relaxation phenomena were investigated and responsible mechanisms were explained. In particular, grain boundary (GB) sliding, which is responsible for high temperature plasticity in fine grained ceramics, gives rise to a peak or an exponential increase in the high temperature mechanical loss. Peak and exponential background depend on two forces, which control the GB sliding: a friction force due to the GB viscosity and a restoring force due to the elasticity of the surrounding grains. In the present thesis, ceramics and composites have been processed, which allow one to study the role played by these forces on the thermo‐ mechanical behavior of these refractory materials. SiAlON ceramics were chosen for studying the viscous force due to the inter‐granular glassy phase. In zirconia and alumina, it is shown how the CNT reinforcements may improve the restoring force and consequently the creep resistance. Different grades of SiAlON ceramics, processed with different sintering aids (Ca2+, Y3+, Yb3+), with oxygen rich (CaO, Y2O3 and Yb2O3) and nitrogen rich (CaH2, YN and YbN) compounds, have been studied. Mechanical spectroscopy has been used to analyze the behavior of the residual glassy phase, present after sintering, either as grain‐boundary glassy (GB) films or glass pockets located in GB triple junctions. The mechanical loss spectra show a relaxation peak, which is due to a relaxation phenomenon (the so called “α‐relaxation”) associated with the glass transition in the amorphous phase. The peak position depends on the glass viscosity and the peak height is mainly affected by the glassy phase amount and the SiAlON bimodal microstructure, namely equiaxed versus elongated grains. Moreover the peak height depends on the restoring force provided by the neighboring grains, which limit the GB sliding process. As a matter of fact, a good correlation between the mechanical loss peak and plastic deformation in a compression test has been observed. It is concluded that the elongated grains in the bimodal microstructure provide a higher restoring force, which limits the GB sliding of smaller equiaxed grains. In the case of equiaxed fine grained oxide ceramics, such as zirconia and alumina, the restoring force has been increased by CNT additions, which can reinforce the GBs. 3Y‐TZPcomposites with a homogenous distributions of CNTs, ranging within 0.5 – 5 wt%, were processed by SPS. A significant improvement in room temperature fracture toughness and shear modulus as well as creep performance at high temperature were obtained, and interpreted as due to the GB reinforcing role of the CNTs. To support this interpretation, high‐resolution electron microscopy and Raman spectroscopy have been carried out. Moreover, a remarkable enhancement of the electrical conductivity up to ten orders of magnitude due to CNT additions has been obtained with respect to the pure ceramics. The isothermal spectrum of the 3Y‐TZP composites (measured at 1600 K) is composed of a mechanical loss peak at a frequency of about 0.1 Hz, which is superimposed on an exponential increase at lower frequency. This is interpreted as primarily due to GB sliding. The absence of a well‐marked peak in monolithic 3Y‐ TZP is justified by considering that the restoring force decreases at low frequencies or high temperatures. Therefore, GB sliding is no more restricted and the mechanical loss increases exponentially, which is correlated to macroscopic creep. With CNT additions the mechanical loss decreases and the relaxation peak is better resolved with respect to the background. This is interpreted by the pinning effect of CNTs on GBs, providing addition source of restoring force, which can hinder GB sliding at high temperature, resulting in a creep resistance improvement. Similarly to 3Y‐TZP based composites, alumina specimens (3 different types of alumina powders) reinforced with different amount of CNTs were sintered by SPS. It is shown how the initial particle size of the powders may affect the dispersion of CNTs. Measurement of different properties, such as hardness, fracture toughness and mechanical loss at high temperature, have evidenced the crucial role of the CNT dispersion in the obtained mechanical properties.

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