Confined spinodal fluctuations at crystal defects evidenced in Fe-Mn alloys
In this ongoing project, we investigate spinodal fluctuations at crystal defects such as grain boundaries and dislocations in Fe-Mn alloys using atom probe tomography, electron microscopy and thermodynamic modeling [1,2].
Analysis and design of materials and fluids requires understanding of the fundamental relationships between structure, composition and properties. Dislocations and grain boundaries influence microstructure evolution through the enhancement of diffusion and by facilitating heterogeneous nucleation, where atoms must overcome a potential barrier to enable the early stage of formation of a phase. Adsorption and spinodal decomposition are known precursor states to nucleation and phase-transition, however nucleation remains the less well understood step in the complete thermodynamic sequence that shapes a microstructure. Here, we report near-atomic-scale observations of a phase transition mechanism which consists of solute adsorption to crystalline defects followed by linear and planar spinodal fluctuations in a Fe-Mn model alloy. These fluctuations provide a pathway for austenite nucleation due to the higher driving force for phase transition in the solute-rich regions. Our observations are supported by thermodynamics calculations, which predict the possibility of spinodal decomposition due to magnetic ordering.