Role of electronic energy loss on defect production and interface stability: Comparison between ceramic materials and high-entropy alloys

Yanwen Zhang, Chinthaka Silva, Timothy G. Lach, Matheus A. Tunes, Yufan Zhou, Lauren Nuckols, Walker L. Boldman, Philip D. Rack, Stephen E. Donnelly, Li Jiang, Lumin Wang, William J. Weber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


High-entropy alloys (HEAs) and some complex alloys exhibit desirable properties and significant structural stability in harsh environments, including possible applications in advanced reactors. Energetic ion irradiation is often used as a surrogate for neutron irradiation; however, the impact of ion electronic energy deposition and dissipation is often neglected. Moreover, differences in recoil energy spectrum and density of cascade events on damage evolution must also be considered. In many chemically complex alloys, the mean free path of electrons is reduced significantly, thus their decreased thermal conductivity and slow dissipation of localized radiation energy can have noticeable effects on displacement cascade evolution that is greatly different from metals with high thermal conductivity. In this work, nanocrystalline HEAs of Ni20Fe20Co20Cr20Cu20 and nonequiatomic (NiFeCoCr)97Cu3, both having much lower room-temperature thermal conductivity than pure Ni or Fe, are chosen as model HEAs to reveal the role that electronic energy loss during ion irradiation has in complex alloys. The response of nanocrystalline HEAs is investigated under irradiation at room temperature using MeV Ni and Au ions that have different ratios of electronic energy to damage energy, which is the energy dissipated in displacing atoms. Different from previously reported amorphization of nanocrystalline SiC, experimental results on these HEAs show that, similar to the process in nanocrystalline oxide materials, both inelastic thermal spikes via electron–phonon coupling and elastic thermal spikes via collisions among atomic nuclei contribute to the overall grain growth. The growth follows a power law dependence with the total deposited ion energy, and the derived value of the power-exponent suggests that the irradiation-induced instability at and near grain boundaries leads to local rapid atomic rearrangements and consequently grain growth. The high power-exponent value can be attributed to the sluggish diffusion and delayed defect evolution arising from the chemical complexity intrinsic to HEAs. This work calls attention to quantified fundamental understanding of radiation damage processes beyond that of simplified displacement events, especially in simulating neutron environments.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101001
Number of pages16
JournalCurrent Opinion in Solid State and Materials Science
Issue number4
Early online date14 Apr 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2022


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