Thermodynamic Aspects of Homogeneous Nucleation Enhanced by Icosahedral Short Range Order in Liquid Fcc-Type Alloys
We have recently shown that minute solute element additions to liquid metallic alloys can strongly influence the nucleation of the fcc phase and act as a grain refinement method. Electron back-scattered diffraction observations revealed a concomitant increase in the percentage of nearest neighbor (nn) grains that are in a twin relationship. Furthermore, multiple-twinned (MT) nn grain configurations with a fivefold symmetry around a common < 110 > direction have been identified, an occurrence that can be explained when the symmetry of the icosahedron is accounted for. It was then conjectured that a new nucleation mechanism occurs in two steps: first, the formation of small icosahedral quasicrystals in the melt, followed by heteroepitaxy of the fcc phase on facets of these quasicrystals. In the present contribution, based on thermodynamics arguments, it is proposed that the first step occurs by spinodal decomposition of the liquid, in a manner similar to Guinier-Preston zones formation in solid state precipitation, while the second step is a transformation of these quasicrystal precursors into MT-fcc nanocrystals once the driving force for this transformation is sufficient to overcome the fcc-liquid interfacial energy and the elastic strains associated with MT-fcc nanoparticles. This explanation sets up guidelines for finding solute elements and composition ranges that favor this grain refinement mechanism.