Direct observation of atomic-scale fracture path within ceramic grain boundary core

Hua An, Akihito Kumamoto, Rong Xiang,* Taiki Inoue, Keigo Otsuka, Shohei Chiashi, Christophe Bichara, Annick Loiseau, Yan Li, Yuichi Ikuhara, Shigeo Maruyama*

In fracture processes, grain boundaries behave as preferential paths for crack propagation. These grain boundary fractures proceed by the atomic-bond rupture within the grain boundary cores, and thus grain boundary structures have crucial influence on the fracture properties. However, the relationship between grain boundary structures and atomic fracture processes has been a matter of conjecture, especially in the case of dopant-segregated grain boundaries which have complicated local structures and chemistries. Here, we determine the atomic-bond breaking path within a dopant-segregated Al2O3 grain boundary core, via atomic-scale observations of the as-fractured surface and the crack tip introduced by in situ nanoindentation experiments inside a transmission electron microscope. Our observations show that the atomic fracture path is selected to produce less coordination-deficient oxygen polyhedra of dopant cations, which is rationalised using first-principles calculations. The present findings indicate that the atomic coordination geometry at the grain boundary core affects the fracture processes.



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