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Nanoscale manipulation of the properties of solids at high pressure with relativistic heavy ions


High-pressure and high-temperature phases show unusual physical and chemical properties, but they are often difficult to ‘quench’ to ambient conditions1. Here, we present a new approach, using bombardment with very high-energy, heavy ions accelerated to relativistic velocities, to stabilize a high-pressure phase. In this case, Gd2Zr2O7, pressurized in a diamond-anvil cell up to 40 GPa, was irradiated with 20 GeV xenon or 45 GeV uranium ions, and the (previously unquenchable) cubic high-pressure phase was recovered after release of pressure. Transmission electron microscopy revealed a radiation-induced, nanocrystalline texture. Quantum-mechanical calculations confirm that the surface energy at the nanoscale is the cause of the remarkable stabilization of the high-pressure phase. The combined use of high pressure and high-energy ion irradiation2,3 provides a new means for manipulating and stabilizing new materials to ambient conditions that otherwise could not be recovered.

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Figure 1: Synchrotron XRD images and integrated patterns of Gd2Zr2O7 obtained at different combinations of pressure and irradiation.
Figure 2: Synchrotron XRD pattern of the X-phase recovered from 20 GPa after irradiation with 7-GeV uranium ions.
Figure 3: High-resolution TEM images of Gd2Zr2O7 recovered from 40 GPa.
Figure 4: Quantum-mechanical calculations of the potential energy of different Gd2Zr2O7 structure types as a function of grain size, H.


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This work was supported by the Office of Basic Energy Sciences, USDOE, under grant DE-FG02-97ER45656. The use of the National Synchrotron Light Source at X17C station is supported by NSF COMPRES EAR01-35554 and by USDOE contract DE-AC02-10886. This research was supported in part by the National Science Foundation through TeraGrid resources provided by NCSA and NICS. Further support was provided by the German Science Foundation DFG (grant to M.L.).

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Authors and Affiliations



M.L., F.X.Z. and R.C.E conceived and designed the experiments. C.T., B.S. and R.N. participated in the high-energy irradiations at GSI. M.L. and F.X.Z. analysed the samples by synchrotron XRD. J.Z. completed the TEM analysis and measurements. J.W. and U.B. carried out the quantum-mechanical calculations. All authors have reviewed, discussed and approved the results and conclusions of this letter.

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Correspondence to Rodney C. Ewing.

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Lang, M., Zhang, F., Zhang, J. et al. Nanoscale manipulation of the properties of solids at high pressure with relativistic heavy ions. Nature Mater 8, 793–797 (2009).

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