Pressureless-sintered AlN was neutron irradiated and the hardness change was examined by Vickers indentation. The hardness was increased by irradiation. When the samples were annealed at high temperature, the hardness gradually decreased. Length was also found to increase and to change in the same way as the hardness. A considerable density of dislocation loops still remained, even after the hardness completely recovered to the value of the unirradiated sample. Thus, it is concluded that the hardening in AlN is caused by isolated point defects and small clusters of point defects, rather than by dislocation loops.
Hardness was found to increase in proportion to the length change. If the length change is assumed to be proportional to the point defect density, then the curve could be fitted qualitatively to that predicted by models of solution hardening in metals. Furthermore, the curves for three samples irradiated at different temperatures and fluences are identical. There should be different kinds of defect clusters in samples irradiated at different conditions, e.g, the fraction of single point defects is the highest in the sample irradiated at the lowest temperature. Thus, hardening is insensitive to the kind of defects remaining in the sample and is influenced only by those which contribute to length change.