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Effects of Rare-Earth (RE) Intergranular Adsorption on the Phase Transformation, Microstructure Evolution, and Mechanical Properties in Silicon Nitride with RE2O3+MgO Additives: RE=La, Gd, and Lu

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Silicon nitride powders most often consist primarily of the α phase, which transforms into the  phase during the densification and microstructural evolution of Si3N4 ceramics. The temperature at which the transformation initiates in the presence of a combination of MgO and RE2O3 densification additives is found to decrease with increasing atomic number of the rare earth (RE). This trend coincides with the predicted and observed decrease in the affinity of the RE to segregate to and absorb on the prism planes of hexagonal prism-shaped  grains with an increase in the atomic number of the RE. When RE adsorption is diminished, Si (and N) attachment on the smooth prism planes is enhanced, which increases diametrical growth rates, normally reaction-rate limited by an attachment mechanism. Combined with the typically fast [0001] growth, it is this augmented grain growth that contributes toward the initiation of the α– transformation at lower temperatures. With the enhanced transformation, observations reveal an increase in the number of  grains growing in the early stages of densification. On the other hand, increased RE adsorption leads to greater growth anisotropy, resulting in the formation of higher aspect ratio grains. Thus, Lu2O3 generates larger diameter, yet elongated, reinforcing grains, while La2O3 results in reinforcing grains of a higher aspect ratio. The Gd2O3 additive transformation and microstructural characteristics lie intermediate to those of the lanthanide end-member elements. Despite these differences, a substantial fraction of large reinforcing grains were found for each additive composition. As a result, the mechanical properties of the resultant ceramics are similar with flexure strengths in excess of 1 GPa, fracture toughness values >10 MPa·m1/2 at room temperature, and excellent strength retention (>800 MPa) at 1200°C.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Materials Science and Technology Division, Oak Ridge, Tennessee 37831-6068 2: Institute of Engineering Innovation, University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan

Publication date: 2008-07-01

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