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Phase transition lowering in dynamically compressed silicon

Abstract

Silicon, being one of the most abundant elements in nature, attracts wide-ranging scientific and technological interest. Specifically, in its elemental form, crystals of remarkable purity can be produced. One may assume that this would lead to silicon being well understood, and indeed, this is the case for many ambient properties, as well as for higher-pressure behaviour under quasi-static loading. However, despite many decades of study, a detailed understanding of the response of silicon to rapid compression—such as that experienced under shock impact—remains elusive. Here, we combine a novel free-electron laser-based X-ray diffraction geometry with laser-driven compression to elucidate the importance of shear generated during shock compression on the occurrence of phase transitions. We observe lowering of the hydrostatic phase boundary in elemental silicon, an ideal model system for investigating high-strength materials, analogous to planetary constituents. Moreover, we unambiguously determine the onset of melting above 14 GPa, previously ascribed to a solid–solid phase transition, undetectable in the now conventional shocked diffraction geometry; transitions to the liquid state are expected to be ubiquitous in all systems at sufficiently high pressures and temperatures.

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Fig. 1: Experimental configuration and data examples.
Fig. 2: The greater sensitivity of the transverse configuration.
Fig. 3: Evidence of the onset of melting.
Fig. 4: Dynamic shear-lowering of phase transition boundaries.

Data availability

The data that support the plots within this paper and other findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request

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Acknowledgements

E.E.M and A.S. acknowledge funding from the Volkswagen Foundation. J.S.W. is grateful for support from EPSRC under grant EP/J017256/1. This work is supported by the French Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR) with the ANR IRONFEL 12-PDOC-0011. Use of the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS), SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, is supported by the US Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Basic Energy Sciences under Contract No. DE-AC02-76SF00515. The MEC instrument is supported by the US Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Fusion Energy Sciences under contract No. SF00515. The authors thank J. B. Hastings and L. B. Fletcher for a critical review of the manuscript.

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E.E.M., A.H. and A.N. designed the experiment, E.E.M., A.H., D.S. and C.S. designed the targets and C.S. manufactured the targets. E.E.M., A.K., M.H., E.G., Z.K., H-.J.L., B.N., A.P., M.R., A.S., C.S., F.T., S.T., T.T. and A.H. contributed to the set-up of the experiment and data collection. E.E.M. analysed the data, with assistance from A.K., M.H., R.F.S. and A.H., then E.E.M. and A.H. interpreted the data. E.E.M., A.H. and J.S.W. wrote the manuscript. All authors commented critically on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to E. E. McBride.

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McBride, E.E., Krygier, A., Ehnes, A. et al. Phase transition lowering in dynamically compressed silicon. Nature Phys 15, 89–94 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41567-018-0290-x

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