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Real-time quantitative imaging of failure events in materials under load at temperatures above 1,600 °C


Ceramic matrix composites are the emerging material of choice for structures that will see temperatures above ~1,500 °C in hostile environments, as for example in next-generation gas turbines and hypersonic-flight applications. The safe operation of applications depends on how small cracks forming inside the material are restrained by its microstructure. As with natural tissue such as bone and seashells, the tailored microstructural complexity of ceramic matrix composites imparts them with mechanical toughness, which is essential to avoiding failure. Yet gathering three-dimensional observations of damage evolution in extreme environments has been a challenge. Using synchrotron X-ray computed microtomography, we have fully resolved sequences of microcrack damage as cracks grow under load at temperatures up to 1,750 °C. Our observations are key ingredients for the high-fidelity simulations used to compute failure risks under extreme operating conditions.

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Figure 1: In situ ultrahigh temperature tensile test rig.
Figure 2: In situ testing of single-tow SiC–SiC composite specimens at room (25 °C) and ultrahigh (1,750 °C) temperatures.
Figure 3: Quantification of cracks in matrix and fibres of single-tow SiC–SiC composite specimens from Fig. 2.
Figure 4: In situ tomography of C–SiC composite with textile-based carbon fibre reinforcements under a tensile load at 25 and 1,750 °C.


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Work supported by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (A. Sayir) and NASA (A. Calomino) under the National Hypersonics Science Center for Materials and Structures (AFOSR Contract No. FA9550-09-1-0477). We acknowledge the use of the X-ray synchrotron micro-tomography beam line (8.3.2) at the Advanced Light Source (ALS) at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which is supported by the Office of Science of the US Department of Energy under contract no. DE-AC02-05CH11231.

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B.N.C., D.B.M. and R.O.R. conceived the project, J.R.N. and A.A.M. designed the equipment and A.H. and H.A.B. built it. D.B.M. prepared the composite samples, H.A.B. performed the experiments and analysis with assistance from A.H., A.A.M., D.L.P. and D.B.M., and H.A.B., B.N.C., D.B.M. and R.O.R. wrote the manuscript with contributions from A.A.M.

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Correspondence to Robert O. Ritchie.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Bale, H., Haboub, A., MacDowell, A. et al. Real-time quantitative imaging of failure events in materials under load at temperatures above 1,600 °C. Nature Mater 12, 40–46 (2013).

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