Synopsis

A Bumpy Ride for Atoms

Physics 8, s121
Aging in metallic glasses occurs via intermittent rearrangements of the atoms and is not a steady, continuous process as previously thought.
Z. Evenson et al. Phys. Rev. Lett. (2015)

Metallic glasses—alloys with an amorphous glasslike structure—are popular technological materials because of their strength and resistance to fracture. However, these properties can decay over time, making the glass more brittle and prone to cracking. How this “aging” occurs, though, is unclear: Macroscopic measurements suggest a slow and steady rearrangement of the alloy’s atoms, but atomic-scale probes indicate a more complex and heterogeneous process. Providing support for this second picture, Zach Evenson at the Technical University Munich, Germany, and colleagues show that aging of a metallic glass occurs via localized and intermittent rearrangements of atoms. Understanding how atoms behave in metallic glasses as they age could allow more robust versions of these materials to be designed.

Evenson and co-workers cooled a palladium-based metallic glass from a liquid to a glassy state. Using x rays, they monitored the subsequent density fluctuations of the alloy as a function of time. These fluctuations are proportional to the frequency of the structural rearrangement of the atoms. They found that just after the glass had formed, it sat in a uniform state with density fluctuations that stayed constant with time. The alloy then entered an “aging” regime with slower density fluctuations. This slow down was not a continuous process; instead, the density fluctuations abruptly decreased to a fixed value, stayed there for a short period of time, and then abruptly dropped again—much like stop-and-go traffic on a congested freeway. Evenson and colleagues think these complicated dynamics indicate a system in which internal stresses, stored at the atomic level, relax in an intermittent and discontinuous manner.

This research is published in Physical Review Letters.

–Katherine Wright


Subject Areas

Materials Science

Related Articles

Icicle Structure Reveals Growth Dynamics
Materials Science

Icicle Structure Reveals Growth Dynamics

Some icicles develop surface ripples as they grow. Researchers now explain the growth mechanism, but a full explanation remains elusive. Read More »

Machine-Learning Tool Solves Metamaterial Jigsaw
Materials Science

Machine-Learning Tool Solves Metamaterial Jigsaw

A new tool can determine whether a collection of building blocks will assemble into a mechanically sound structure. Read More »

Impurities Enable High-Quality Resistive Switching Devices
Condensed Matter Physics

Impurities Enable High-Quality Resistive Switching Devices

Adding dopants to resistive random-access memories could enable the controllable operation of these devices in neuromorphic computing hardware Read More »

More Articles