Letter | Published:

Formation of monatomic metallic glasses through ultrafast liquid quenching

Nature volume 512, pages 177180 (14 August 2014) | Download Citation

Abstract

It has long been conjectured that any metallic liquid can be vitrified into a glassy state provided that the cooling rate is sufficiently high1,2,3,4. Experimentally, however, vitrification of single-element metallic liquids is notoriously difficult5. True laboratory demonstration of the formation of monatomic metallic glass has been lacking. Here we report an experimental approach to the vitrification of monatomic metallic liquids by achieving an unprecedentedly high liquid-quenching rate of 1014 K s−1. Under such a high cooling rate, melts of pure refractory body-centred cubic (bcc) metals, such as liquid tantalum and vanadium, are successfully vitrified to form metallic glasses suitable for property interrogations. Combining in situ transmission electron microscopy observation and atoms-to-continuum modelling, we investigated the formation condition and thermal stability of the monatomic metallic glasses as obtained. The availability of monatomic metallic glasses, being the simplest glass formers, offers unique possibilities for studying the structure and property relationships of glasses. Our technique also shows great control over the reversible vitrification–crystallization processes, suggesting its potential in micro-electromechanical applications. The ultrahigh cooling rate, approaching the highest liquid-quenching rate attainable in the experiment, makes it possible to explore the fast kinetics and structural behaviour of supercooled metallic liquids within the nanosecond to picosecond regimes.

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Acknowledgements

We thank A. J. Coley and Y. Liu for their assistance in designing the electrical circuit for our experiment, and Y. He for performing the liquid-quenching experiment on iridium and rhodium. H.W.S. acknowledges helpful discussions with L. V. Zhigilei. S.X.M. acknowledges National Science Foundation (NSF) grant CMMI 0928517 through the support of the University of Pittsburgh. Work at George Mason University was supported by the US NSF under grant no. DMR-0907325. This work was performed in part at the Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies (CINT), an Office of Science User Facility operated for the US Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science. The computational work was conducted on the SR10000-K1/52 supercomputing facilities of the Institute for Materials Research, Tohoku University.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15261, USA

    • Li Zhong
    • , Jiangwei Wang
    •  & Scott X. Mao
  2. School of Physics, Astronomy and Computational Sciences, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia 22030, USA

    • Hongwei Sheng
  3. Center for High Pressure Science and Technology Advanced Research, Shanghai 201203, China

    • Hongwei Sheng
  4. Department of Materials Science and Engineering and State Key Laboratory of Silicon Materials, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou 310027, China

    • Ze Zhang

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Contributions

L.Z. and J.W.W. carried out the TEM experiments under the direction of S.X.M. S.X.M. created the experimental protocols. H.W.S. performed the computer simulation. L.Z., H.W.S. and S.X.M. performed the experimental data analysis. All the authors (L.Z., J.W.W., H.W.S., Z.Z. and S.X.M.) contributed to the discussion of the results. L.Z., S.X.M. and H.W.S. wrote the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Hongwei Sheng or Scott X. Mao.

Extended data

Supplementary information

Videos

  1. 1.

    Controlled crystallization under a series of crystallization pulses

    Gradual crystallization in a 180 nm long, 85 nm thick Ta MG proceeded by migration of the GCIs (indicated by red arrow heads) a step forward towards each other after each pulse.

  2. 2.

    Tensile mechanical test on Ta MG

    In a half-MG, half-crystal hybrid Ta nanowire, deformation was localized in the MG by a major shear along ~52° off the loading direction, which initiated shortly after tensile straining at a rate of 10-3 s-1 while no sign of plasticity was observed in bcc Ta. This movie is played at 8× (see Extended Data Figure 9).

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nature13617

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