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In-situ transmission electron microscopy (TEM) provides an avenue to explore time-dependent nanoscale material changes induced by a wide range of environmental conditions that govern material performance and degradation. The In-situ Ion Irradiation TEM (I3TEM) at Sandia National Laboratories is a JEOL 2100 microscope that has been highly modified with an array of hardware and software that makes it particularly well suited to explore fundamental mechanisms that arise from coupled extreme conditions. Examples pertaining to multibeam ion irradiation, rapid thermal cycling, and nanomechanical testing on the I3TEM are highlighted, along with prospective advancements in the field of in-situ microscopy.
Microstructure and phase evolution in magnetron sputtered nanocrystalline tungsten and tungsten alloy thin films are explored through in situ TEM annealing experiments at temperatures up to 1000 °C. Grain growth in unalloyed nanocrystalline tungsten transpires through a discontinuous process at temperatures up to 550 °C, which is coupled to an allotropic phase transformation of metastable β-tungsten with the A-15 cubic structure to stable body centered cubic (BCC) α-tungsten. Complete transformation to the BCC α-phase is accompanied by the convergence to a unimodal nanocrystalline structure at 650 °C, signaling a transition to continuous grain growth. Alloy films synthesized with compositions of W–20 at.% Ti and W–15 at.% Cr exhibit only the BCC α-phase in the as-deposited state, which indicate the addition of solute stabilizes the films against the formation of metastable β-tungsten. Thermal stability of the alloy films is significantly improved over their unalloyed counterpart up to 1000 °C, and grain coarsening occurs solely through a continuous growth process. The contrasting thermal stability between W–Ti and W–Cr is attributed to different grain boundary segregation states, thus demonstrating the critical role of grain boundary chemistry in the design of solute-stabilized nanocrystalline alloys.
Zirconium thin films were irradiated at room temperature with an 800 keV Zr+ beam using a 6 MV HVE Tandem accelerator to 1.36 displacement per atom damage. Freestanding tensile specimens, 100 nm thick and 10 nm grain size, were tested in situ inside a transmission electron microscope. Significant grain growth (>300%), texture evolution, and displacement damage defects were observed. Stress–strain profiles were mostly linear elastic below 20 nm grain size, but above this limit, the samples demonstrated yielding and strain hardening. Experimental results support the hypothesis that grain boundaries in nanocrystalline metals act as very effective defect sinks.