Transition between Hall-Petch and inverse Hall-Petch behavior in nanocrystalline silicon carbide

SZ Chavoshi and PS Branicio and Q An, PHYSICAL REVIEW MATERIALS, 5, 073606 (2021).

DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevMaterials.5.073606

Despite much experimental and simulation effort, the existence of a Hall-Petch to inverse Hall-Petch transition in nanocrystalline ceramics remains elusive. By employing molecular dynamics simulations, we unambiguously reveal a transition from strengthening to softening in the shear deformation of nanocrystalline silicon carbide ceramics as a function of grain size. Results show a well-defined maximum in the shear strength for grain sizes in the range 6.2 to 7.7 nm. Further decrease in grain size leads to diminishing strength, consistent with an inverse Hall-Petch behavior. As grain size is reduced the increasing grain boundary (GB) regions lead to homogenization of shear stresses across the microstructure, allowing for lower local shear stress levels at higher macroscopically applied stresses. This delays shear localization within GB regions, preventing cavitation, nanocracking, and premature failure, and is responsible for the observed Hall-Petch behavior. In contrast, at grain sizes <6.2 nm, the rather compliant nature of the structurally disordered GB regions dominates the mechanical response, reducing the shear strength and triggering a transition into the inverse Hall-Petch behavior. A composite model delineating the transition between Hall-Petch and inverse Hall-Petch behavior is successful at describing the mechanical behavior of nanocrystalline silicon carbide as a function of grain size.

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