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Concept: Intermetallics


The search for new hard materials is often challenging, but strongly motivated by the vast application potential such materials hold. Ti3Au exhibits high hardness values (about four times those of pure Ti and most steel alloys), reduced coefficient of friction and wear rates, and biocompatibility, all of which are optimal traits for orthopedic, dental, and prosthetic applications. In addition, the ability of this compound to adhere to ceramic parts can reduce both the weight and the cost of medical components. The fourfold increase in the hardness of Ti3Au compared to other Ti-Au alloys and compounds can be attributed to the elevated valence electron density, the reduced bond length, and the pseudogap formation. Understanding the origin of hardness in this intermetallic compound provides an avenue toward designing superior biocompatible, hard materials.

Concepts: Electron, Chemical bond, Materials science, Alloy, Intermetallics, Steel, Friction, Hardness


Magnetic materials underpin modern technologies, ranging from data storage to energy conversion to contactless sensing. However, the development of a new high-performance magnet is a long and often unpredictable process, and only about two dozen magnets are featured in mainstream applications. We describe a systematic pathway to the design of novel magnetic materials, which demonstrates a high throughput and discovery speed. On the basis of an extensive electronic structure library of Heusler alloys containing 236,115 prototypical compounds, we filtered those displaying magnetic order and established whether they can be fabricated at thermodynamic equilibrium. Specifically, we carried out a full stability analysis of intermetallic Heusler alloys made only of transition metals. Among the possible 36,540 prototypes, 248 were thermodynamically stable but only 20 were magnetic. The magnetic ordering temperature, TC, was estimated by a regression calibrated on the experimental TC of about 60 known compounds. As a final validation, we attempted the synthesis of a few of the predicted compounds and produced two new magnets: Co2MnTi, which displays a remarkably high TC in perfect agreement with the predictions, and Mn2PtPd, which is an antiferromagnet. Our work paves the way for large-scale design of novel magnetic materials at potentially high speed.

Concepts: Magnetic field, Magnet, Temperature, Magnetism, Ferromagnetism, Thermodynamics, Magnetic moment, Intermetallics


Replacing noble metals in heterogeneous catalysts by low-cost substitutes has driven scientific and industrial research for more than 100 years. Cheap and ubiquitous iron is especially desirable, because it does not bear potential health risks like, for example, nickel. To purify the ethylene feed for the production of polyethylene, the semi-hydrogenation of acetylene is applied (80 × 10(6) tons per annum; refs 1-3). The presence of small and separated transition-metal atom ensembles (so-called site-isolation), and the suppression of hydride formation are beneficial for the catalytic performance. Iron catalysts necessitate at least 50 bar and 100 °C for the hydrogenation of unsaturated C-C bonds, showing only limited selectivity towards semi-hydrogenation. Recent innovation in catalytic semi-hydrogenation is based on computational screening of substitutional alloys to identify promising metal combinations using scaling functions and the experimental realization of the site-isolation concept employing structurally well-ordered and in situ stable intermetallic compounds of Ga with Pd (refs 15-19). The stability enables a knowledge-based development by assigning the observed catalytic properties to the crystal and electronic structures of the intermetallic compounds. Following this approach, we identified the low-cost and environmentally benign intermetallic compound Al(13)Fe(4) as an active and selective semi-hydrogenation catalyst. This knowledge-based development might prove applicable to a wide range of heterogeneously catalysed reactions.

Concepts: Hydrogen, Catalysis, Heterogeneous catalysis, Hydrogenation, Metallurgy, Alloy, Intermetallics, Palladium


Magnetic properties of the intermetallic compound U(2)Fe(3)Ge were studied on a single crystal. The compound crystallizes in the hexagonal Mg(2)Cu(3)Si structure, an ordered variant of the MgZn(2) Laves structure (C14). U(2)Fe(3)Ge displays ferromagnetic order below the Curie temperature T© = 55 K and presents an exception to the Hill rule, as the nearest inter-uranium distances do not exceed 3.2 Å. Magnetic moments lie in the basal plane of the hexagonal lattice, with the spontaneous magnetic moment M(s) = 1.0 μ(B)/f.u. at T = 2 K. No anisotropy within the basal plane is detected. In contrast to typical U-based intermetallics, U(2)Fe(3)Ge exhibits very low magnetic anisotropy, whose field does not exceed 10 T. The dominance of U in the magnetism of U(2)Fe(3)Ge is suggested by the (57)Fe Mössbauer spectroscopy study, which indicates very low or even zero Fe moments. Electronic structure calculations are in agreement with the observed easy-plane anisotropy but fail to explain the lack of an Fe contribution to the magnetism of U(2)Fe(3)Ge.

Concepts: Magnetic field, Magnet, Paramagnetism, Magnetism, Ferromagnetism, Magnetic moment, Intermetallics, Laves phase


Although steel has been the workhorse of the automotive industry since the 1920s, the share by weight of steel and iron in an average light vehicle is now gradually decreasing, from 68.1 per cent in 1995 to 60.1 per cent in 2011 (refs 1, 2). This has been driven by the low strength-to-weight ratio (specific strength) of iron and steel, and the desire to improve such mechanical properties with other materials. Recently, high-aluminium low-density steels have been actively studied as a means of increasing the specific strength of an alloy by reducing its density. But with increasing aluminium content a problem is encountered: brittle intermetallic compounds can form in the resulting alloys, leading to poor ductility. Here we show that an FeAl-type brittle but hard intermetallic compound (B2) can be effectively used as a strengthening second phase in high-aluminium low-density steel, while alleviating its harmful effect on ductility by controlling its morphology and dispersion. The specific tensile strength and ductility of the developed steel improve on those of the lightest and strongest metallic materials known, titanium alloys. We found that alloying of nickel catalyses the precipitation of nanometre-sized B2 particles in the face-centred cubic matrix of high-aluminium low-density steel during heat treatment of cold-rolled sheet steel. Our results demonstrate how intermetallic compounds can be harnessed in the alloy design of lightweight steels for structural applications and others.

Concepts: Iron, Aluminium, Zinc, Tensile strength, Metallurgy, Alloy, Intermetallics, Steel


Frank-Kasper phases are tetrahedrally packed structures occurring in numerous materials, from elements to intermetallics to self-assembled soft materials. They exhibit complex manifolds of Wigner-Seitz cells with many-faceted polyhedra, forming an important bridge between the simple close-packed periodic and quasiperiodic crystals. The recent discovery of the Frank-Kasper σ-phase in diblock and tetrablock polymers stimulated the experiments reported here on a poly(isoprene-b-lactide) diblock copolymer melt. Analysis of small-angle X-ray scattering and mechanical spectroscopy exposes an undiscovered competition between the tendency to form self-assembled particles with spherical symmetry, and the necessity to fill space at uniform density within the framework imposed by the lattice. We thus deduce surprising analogies between the symmetry breaking at the body-centered cubic phase to σ-phase transition in diblock copolymers, mediated by exchange of mass, and the symmetry breaking in certain metals and alloys (such as the elements Mn and U), mediated by exchange of charge. Similar connections are made between the role of sphericity in real space for polymer systems, and the role of sphericity in reciprocal space for metallic systems such as intermetallic compounds and alloys. These findings establish new links between disparate materials classes, provide opportunities to improve the understanding of complex crystallization by building on synergies between hard and soft matter, and, perhaps most significantly, challenge the view that the symmetry breaking required to form reduced symmetry structures (possibly even quasiperiodic crystals) requires particles with multiple predetermined shapes and/or sizes.

Concepts: Crystallography, Polymer, Copolymer, Geometry, Soft matter, Intermetallics, Cubic crystal system, Reciprocal lattice


Al₃TM(TM = Ti, Zr, Hf, Sc) particles acting as effective grain refiners for Al alloys have been receiving extensive attention these days. In order to judge their nucleation behaviors, first-principles calculations are used to investigate their intermetallic and interfacial properties. Based on energy analysis, Al₃Zr and Al₃Sc are more suitable for use as grain refiners than the other two intermetallic compounds. Interfacial properties show that Al/Al₃TM(TM = Ti, Zr, Hf, Sc) interfaces in I-ter interfacial mode exhibit better interface wetting effects due to larger Griffith rupture work and a smaller interface energy. Among these, Al/Al₃Sc achieves the lowest interfacial energy, which shows that Sc atoms should get priority for occupying interfacial sites. Additionally, Sc-doped Al/Al₃(Zr, Sc) interfacial properties show that Sc can effectively improve the Al/Al₃(Zr, Sc) binding strength with the Al matrix. By combining the characteristics of interfaces with the properties of intermetallics, the core-shell structure with Al₃Zr-core or Al₃Zr(Sc1-1)-core encircled with an Sc-rich shell forms.

Concepts: Metallurgy, Alloy, Intermetallics


Bimetallic catalysts play important roles in the selective growth of single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWNTs). Using the simple salts (NH4)6W7O24·6H2O and Co(CH3COO)2·4H2O as precursors, tungsten-cobalt catalysts were prepared. The catalysts were composed of W6Co7 intermetallic compounds and tungsten-dispersed cobalt. With the increase of the W/Co ratio in the precursors, the content of W6Co7 was increased. Because the W6Co7 intermetallic compound can enable the chirality specified growth of SWNTs, the selectivity of the resulting SWNTs is improved at a higher W/Co ratio. At a W/Co ratio of 6 : 4 and under optimized chemical vapor deposition conditions, we realized the direct growth of semiconducting SWNTs with the purity of ∼96%, in which ∼62% are (14, 4) tubes. Using salts as precursors to prepare tungsten-cobalt bimetallic catalysts is flexible and convenient. This offers an efficient pathway for the large-scale preparation of chirality enriched semiconducting SWNTs.

Concepts: Water, Carbon nanotube, Chemical compound, Chemical vapor deposition, Intermetallics, Salt, Superalloy, Complex metallic alloys


Recently magnetic tunnel junctions using two-dimensional MoS2as nonmagnetic spacer have been fabricated, although their magnetoresistance has been reported to be quite low. This may be attributed to the use of permalloy electrodes, injecting current with a relatively small spin polarization. Here we evaluate the performance of MoS2-based tunnel junctions using Fe3Si Heusler alloy electrodes. Density functional theory and the non-equilibrium Green’s function method are used to investigate the spin injection efficiency (SIE) and the magnetoresistance (MR) ratio as a function of the MoS2thickness. We find a maximum MR of ~300% with a SIE of about 80% for spacers comprising between 3 and 5 MoS2monolayers. Most importantly, both the SIE and the MR remain robust at finite bias, namely MR > 100% and SIE > 50% at 0.7 V. Our proposed materials stack thus demonstrates the possibility of developing a new generation of performing magnetic tunnel junctions with layered two-dimensional compounds as spacers.

Concepts: Electron, Magnetic field, Fundamental physics concepts, Magnetism, Density functional theory, Intermetallics, Spintronics, Llewellyn Thomas


The oxidation of Nb-silicide-based alloys is improved with Al, Cr, Ge or Sn addition(s). Depending on addition(s) and its(their) concentration(s), alloyed C14-AB₂ Laves and A15-A₃X phases can be stable in the microstructures of the alloys. In both phases, A is the transition metal(s), and B and X respectively can be Cr, Al, Ge, Si or Sn, and Al, Ge, Si or Sn. The alloying, creep and hardness of these phases were studied using the composition weighted differences in electronegativity (∆χ), average valence electron concentrations (VEC) and atomic sizes. For the Laves phase (i) the VEC and ∆χ were in the ranges 4.976 < VEC < 5.358 and -0.503 < ∆χ < -0.107; (ii) the concentration of B (=Al + Cr + Ge + Si + Sn) varied from 50.9 to 64.5 at %; and (iii) the Cr concentration was in the range of 35.8 < Cr < 51.6 at %. Maps of ∆χ versus Cr, ∆χ versus VEC, and VEC versus atomic size separated the alloying behaviours of the elements. Compared with unalloyed NbCr₂, the VEC decreased and ∆χ increased in Nb(Cr,Si)₂, and the changes in both parameters increased when Nb was substituted by Ti, and Cr by Si and Al, or Si and Ge, or Si and Sn. For the A15 phase (i) the VEC and ∆χ were in the ranges 4.38 < VEC < 4.89 and 0.857 < ∆χ < 1.04, with no VEC values between 4.63 and 4.72 and (ii) the concentration of X (=Al + Ge + Si + Sn) varied from 16.3 to 22.7 at %. The VEC versus ∆χ map separated the alloying behaviours of elements. The hardness of A15-Nb₃X was correlated with the parameters ∆χ and VEC. The hardness increased with increases in ∆χ and VEC. Compared with Nb₃Sn, the ∆χ and hardness of Nb₃(Si,Sn) increased. The substitution of Nb by Cr had the same effect on ∆χ and hardness as Hf or Ti. The ∆χ and hardness increased with Ti concentration. The addition of Al in Nb₃(Si,Sn,Al) decreased the ∆χ and increased the hardness. When Ti and Hf, or Ti, Hf and Cr, were simultaneously present with Al, the ∆χ was decreased and the hardness was unchanged. The better creep of Nb(Cr,Si)₂ compared with the unalloyed Laves phase was related to the decrease in the VEC and ∆χ parameters.

Concepts: Iron, Zinc, Trigraph, Periodic table, Silver, Metallurgy, Alloy, Intermetallics