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In situ observations of nano precipitate growth

Dispersion strengthening is a common phenomenon used to enhance the strength of engineering materials. In commonly used structural alloys for automobile and aerospace applications like aluminum and nickel based alloys, this is achieved by the formation of precipitates upon heat-treatment, a process called precipitation hardening. The difference in the solid solubilities of alloying elements makes it possible to precipitate fine particles of a secondary phase by heat-treatment. This is called aging. 

In situ observations of nano precipitate growth
Fig. 1 (a) HAADF-STEM images of Al2024-T3 during heat-treatment from 100 to 250 °C, EDX elemental maps and heating profile at 250 °C (b) and quenched (c)

DENSsolutions’ single tilt (70 degrees) sample heating system (Wildfire S5) provides the opportunity to optimize this process by directly imaging the growth of nano precipitates during the heat treatment. Fig. 1 gives an example of the application of the system in the study of precipitate growth in Al2024-T3.

Images recorded during heat treatment
Fig. 2 (a) STEM-HAADF image from a series of tomography tilt images recorded during heat treatment of Al2024-T3, (b) 3D density map calculated from the entire data set.

The Wildfire S5 can heat specimens from room temperature to 1300 °C in a (S)TEM. Its large tilt range of ±70° enables the acquisition of tomography tilt series of the growing precipitates. Depending on the recorded image intensities, it might be possible to reconstruct and visualize the three-dimensional density distribution of the sample. Fig. 2b shows a 3D network of nano-precipitates in Al2024-T3 reconstructed from a series of HAADF-STEM images.

Images from Sairam Malladi, National Center for HREM, TU Delft. 

More about in situ TEM sample-management solutions from denssoluton


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Dominic Vogt
Product Manager - Electron microscopy
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