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Concept: Martensite


A wide variety of industrial applications require materials with high strength and ductility. Unfortunately, the strategies for increasing material strength, such as processing to create line defects (dislocations), tend to decrease ductility. We developed a strategy to circumvent this in inexpensive, medium Mn steel. Cold rolling followed by low-temperature tempering developed steel with metastable austenite grains embedded in a highly dislocated martensite matrix. This deformed and partitioned (D&P) process produced dislocation hardening, but retained high ductility both through the glide of intensive mobile dislocations and by allowing us to control martensitic transformation. The D&P strategy should apply to any other alloy with deformation-induced martensitic transformation and provides a pathway for development of high strength, high ductility materials.

Concepts: Tensile strength, Steel, Austenite, Crystallographic defect, Work hardening, Martensite, Cementite, Tempering


The premartensite phase of shape memory and magnetic shape memory alloys (MSMAs) is believed to be a precursor state of the martensite phase with preserved austenite phase symmetry. The thermodynamic stability of the premartensite phase and its relation to the martensitic phase is still an unresolved issue, even though it is critical to the understanding of the functional properties of MSMAs. We present here unambiguous evidence for macroscopic symmetry breaking leading to robust Bain distortion in the premartensite phase of 10% Pt-substituted Ni2MnGa. We show that the robust Bain-distorted premartensite (T2) phase results from another premartensite (T1) phase with preserved cubic-like symmetry through an isostructural phase transition. The T2 phase finally transforms to the martensite phase with additional Bain distortion on further cooling. Our results demonstrate that the premartensite phase should not be considered as a precursor state with the preserved symmetry of the cubic austenite phase.

Concepts: Iron, Fundamental physics concepts, Phase transition, Metallurgy, Steel, Austenite, Martensite, Shape memory alloy


Shape-memory alloys capable of a superelastic stress-induced phase transformation and a high displacement actuation have promise for applications in micro-electromechanical systems for wearable healthcare and flexible electronic technologies. However, some of the fundamental aspects of their nanoscale behaviour remain unclear, including the question of whether the critical stress for the stress-induced martensitic transformation exhibits a size effect similar to that observed in confined plasticity. Here we provide evidence of a strong size effect on the critical stress that induces such a transformation with a threefold increase in the trigger stress in pillars milled on [001] L21 single crystals from a Cu-Al-Ni shape-memory alloy from 2 μm to 260 nm in diameter. A power-law size dependence of n = -2 is observed for the nanoscale superelasticity. Our observation is supported by the atomic lattice shearing and an elastic model for homogeneous martensite nucleation.

Concepts: Iron, Solid, Steel, Austenite, Elasticity, Martensite, Pseudoelasticity, Shape memory alloy


Shape memory materials are a class of smart materials able to convert heat into mechanical strain (or strain into heat) by virtue of a martensitic phase transformation. Some brittle materials such as intermetallics and ceramics exhibit a martensitic transformation but fail by cracking at low strains and after only a few applied strain cycles. Here we show that such failure can be suppressed in normally brittle martensitic ceramics by providing a fine-scale structure with few crystal grains. Such oligocrystalline structures reduce internal mismatch stresses during the martensitic transformation and lead to robust shape memory ceramics that are capable of many superelastic cycles up to large strains; here we describe samples cycled as many as 50 times and samples that can withstand strains over 7%. Shape memory ceramics with these properties represent a new class of actuators or smart materials with a set of properties that include high energy output, high energy damping, and high-temperature usage.

Concepts: Fundamental physics concepts, Structure, Control theory, Phase transition, Failure, Metallurgy, Martensite, Shape memory alloy


Although high carbon martensitic steels are well known for their industrial utility in high abrasion and extreme operating environments, due to their hardness and strength, the compressive stability of their retained austenite, and the implications for the steels' performance and potential uses, is not well understood. This article describes the first investigation at both the macro and nano scale of the compressive stability of retained austenite in high carbon martensitic steel. Using a combination of standard compression testing, X-ray diffraction, optical microstructure, electron backscattering diffraction imaging, electron probe micro-analysis, nano-indentation and micro-indentation measurements, we determined the mechanical stability of retained austenite and martensite in high carbon steel under compressive stress and identified the phase transformation mechanism, from the macro to the nano level. We found at the early stage of plastic deformation hexagonal close-packed (HCP) martensite formation dominates, while higher compression loads trigger body-centred tetragonal (BCT) martensite formation. The combination of this phase transformation and strain hardening led to an increase in the hardness of high carbon steel of around 30%. This comprehensive characterisation of stress induced phase transformation could enable the precise control of the microstructures of high carbon martensitic steels, and hence their properties.

Concepts: Iron, Carbon, Materials science, Steel, Carbon steel, A36 steel, Austenite, Martensite


Grade 91 (9Cr-1Mo) steel was subjected to various heat treatments and then to high-pressure torsion (HPT) at different temperatures. Its microstructure was studied using transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and X-ray diffraction (XRD). Effects of the tempering temperature and the HPT temperature on the microstructural features and microhardness in the ultrafine-grained (UFG) Grade 91 steel were researched. The study of the UFG structure formation takes into account two different microstructures observed: before HPT in both samples containing martensite and in fully ferritic samples.

Concepts: Electron, X-ray, Heat, Transmission electron microscopy, Steel, Austenite, Martensite, Cementite


The strength-toughness combination and hardness uniformity in large cross-section 718H pre-hardened mold steel from a 20 ton ingot were investigated with three different heat treatments for industrial applications. The different microstructures, including tempered martensite, lower bainite, and retained austenite, were obtained at equivalent hardness. The microstructures were characterized by using metallographic observations, scanning electron microscopy (SEM), transmission electron microscopy (TEM), X-ray diffraction (XRD), and electron back-scattered diffraction (EBSD). The mechanical properties were compared by tensile, Charpy U-notch impact and hardness uniformity tests at room temperature. The results showed that the test steels after normalizing-quenching-tempering (N-QT) possessed the best strength-toughness combination and hardness uniformity compared with the conventional quenched-tempered (QT) steel. In addition, the test steel after austempering-tempering (A-T) demonstrated the worse hardness uniformity and lower yield strength while possessing relatively higher elongation (17%) compared with the samples after N-QT (14.5%) treatments. The better ductility of A-T steel mainly depended on the amount and morphology of retained austenite and thermal/deformation-induced twined martensite. This work elucidates the mechanisms of microstructure evolution during heat treatments and will highly improve the strength-toughness-hardness trade-off in large cross-section steels.

Concepts: Electron, Transmission electron microscopy, Scanning electron microscope, Steel, Austenite, Martensite, Ferrite, Tempering


In the past 10 years, several proprietary processing procedures for nickel-titanium (NiTi) alloy were developed in order to improve the mechanical properties of NiTi endodontic instruments. Beside specific thermal and mechanical treatments, manufacturers introduced several machining procedures (e.g. twisting, electrical discharge machining), as well as techniques for final surface finishing. NiTi alloys used for endodontic instruments can be subdivided into instruments that mainly contain the austenite phase (austenitic: conventional NiTi, M-Wire, R-Phase) and those mainly containing the martensite phase (martensitic: CM-Wire, Gold and Blue heat-treated NiTi). Thermomechanically treated NiTi alloys have been reported to be more flexible with an improved cyclic fatigue resistance and greater angle of deflection at failure when compared to conventional NiTi. These enhanced properties may be attributed to a modified phase composition containing varying amounts of R-phase and martensite. Endodontic instruments made of austenitic alloys possess superelastic properties because of stress-induced martensite transformation and consequently tend to spring-back to their original form after deformation. In contrast, the martensitic instruments can easily be deformed due to the reorientation of the martensite variants and show a shape memory effect when heated. The use of martensitic alloy results in more flexible instruments, with an increased cyclic fatigue resistance compared to austenitic alloy. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Concepts: Iron, Metallurgy, Steel, Austenite, Copyright, Martensite, Shape memory alloy, Tempering


Materials can be made strong, but as such they are often brittle and prone to fracture when under stress. Inspired by the exceptionally strong and ductile structure of byssal threads found in certain mussels, we have designed and manufactured a multi-hierarchical steel, based on an inexpensive austenitic stainless steel, which defeats this “conflict” by possessing both superior strength and ductility. These excellent mechanical properties are realized by structurally introducing sandwich structures at both the macro- and nano-scales, the latter via an isometric, alternating, dual-phase crystal phases comprising nano-band austenite and nano-lamellar martensite, without change in chemical composition. Our experiments (transmission and scanning electron microscopy, electron back-scattered diffraction, nano-indentation and tensile tests) and micromechanics simulation results reveal a synergy of mechanisms underlying such exceptional properties. This synergy is key to the development of vastly superior mechanical properties, and may provide a unique strategy for the future development of new super strong and tough (damage-tolerant), lightweight and inexpensive structural materials.

Concepts: Structure, Hierarchy, Gold, Steel, Austenite, Stainless steel, Work hardening, Martensite


A medium-carbon Cr-Mo-V martensitic steel was thermally processed by quenching (Q) at 890 °C and tempering (T) at increasing temperatures from 650 °C to 720 °C and the effect of tempering temperature,Tt, on sulfide stress cracking (SSC) behaviors was estimated mainly via double cantilever beam (DCB) and electrochemical hydrogen permeation (EHP) tests and microstructure characterization. The results indicate that the threshold stress intensity factor for SSC,KISSC, increased with increasingTt. The overall and local H concentration around the inclusions decreased with increasingTt, due to reductions in the amounts of solute atoms, grain boundaries and dislocations, which effectively prevented SSC initiation. Also, increasingTtcaused an increased fraction of high-angle boundaries, which evidently lowered the SSC propagation rate by more frequently diverting the propagating direction and accordingly restricted SSC propagation. The overall SSC resistance of this Q&T-treated steel was therefore significantly enhanced.

Concepts: Chemistry, Materials science, Steel, Austenite, Cantilever, Beam, Corrosion, Martensite