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Nanotwinned Metals Key to Next-Gen Nuclear Reactors

Fri, 02/01/2013 - 12:18pm
Texas A&M Univ.

Texas A&M Univ. mechanical engineering researchers led by Xinghang Zhang have discovered radiation-tolerant nanotwinned metals that could provide an important step forward for the design of materials for the next generation of nuclear reactors.

The paper was published in Nature Communications.

In nuclear reactors, Zhang says, radiation damage in metallic materials can lead to serious degradation of mechanical properties. Stacking-fault tetrahedron (SFT) is a primary type of defect in irradiated face-centered cubic metals with low stacking fault energy, including copper, silver, gold and stainless steels. The removal of SFT is very challenging and typically requires annealing at very high temperatures, incorporation of interstitials or interaction with mobile dislocations.

During their in situ radiation experiments at Argonne National Laboratory, Zhang’s graduate students Kaiyuan Yu and Cheng Sun discovered an alternative route to remove SFTs in nanotwinned silver. A large number of SFTs were removed or truncated during their frequent interactions with abundant coherent twin boundaries, and thus the density of SFTs in nanotwinned silver film decreased sharply compared to its bulk counterpart.

This study provides an important step forward for the design of advanced swelling-resistant structural materials for next generation nuclear reactors. This research is primarily supported by the U.S. Army Research Office's Materials Science Division and partially supported by The U.S. Department of Energy's Nuclear Energy University Program and the National Science Foundation Division of Materials Research's metallic materials and nanostructures program.

Zhang is an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and the Materials Science Engineering Program at Texas A&M. His group has expertise on radiation damage in nanostructured metallic materials, nanotwinned metals, advanced coatings and nanomechanics.

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