In situ reinforced (ISR) silicon nitride ceramics have been developed to have microstructures that mimic the best whisker containing ceramic matrix composites. Large, interlocking needle-like grains of beta silicon nitride can be produced throughout these materials to create an isotropic, high-temperature ceramic with high fracture toughness (˜9 MPa√m), good high-temperature strength (4 Pt MOR = 750 MPa at 25°C and 500 MPa at 1375°C), high Weibull modulus (m >20), and low creep at high temperature. Since these materials do not rely on transforming metastable phase inclusions as a toughening mechanism, their fracture resistance is virtually insensitive to temperature. The high crack growth resistance of these ceramics also yields a material which is extremely defect tolerant. Residual MOR strengths of 300–400 MPa are typical after multiple 50-kg Vicker's indentations of the sample tensile surface. After abrasive particle impact, the biaxial strengths of the in situ reinforced ceramics are typically more than twice that of traditional, fine-grained silicon nitrides.
Unlike ceramic composites toughened using whisker additives, the in situ reinforcement approach to silicon nitride development does not require the use of complicated whisker dispersion techniques for green processing, nor is shape-limiting hot pressing required for densification during sintering.