Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy


Materials Science and Engineering

First Adviser

Harmer, Martin P.

Other advisers/committee members

Watanabe, Masashi; Vinci, Richard P.; Widom, Michael


The development of nanocrystalline materials has been increasingly pursued over the last few decades. They have been shown to exhibit superior properties compared to their coarse-grain counterparts, and thus present a tremendous opportunity to revolutionize the performance of nanoscale devices or bulk structural materials. However, nanocrystalline materials are highly prone to grain growth, and if the nanocrystalline grains coarsen, the beneficial properties are lost. There is a strong effort to determine the most effective thermal stability mechanisms to avoid grain growth, but the physical nature of nanocrystalline grain growth is still unclear due to a lack of detailed understanding of nanocrystalline microstructures. Furthermore, the influence of contamination has scarcely been explored with advanced transmission electron microscopy techniques, nor has there been a direct comparison of alloys fabricated with different bulk processes. Therefore, this research has applied aberration-corrected scanning transmission electron microscopy to characterize nanocrystalline Ni-W on the atomic scale and elucidate the physical grain growth behavior. Three primary objectives were pursued: (1) explore the thermal stability mechanisms of nanocrystalline Ni-W, (2) evaluate the phase stability of Ni-W and link any findings to grain growth behavior, and (3) compare the influences of bulk fabrication processing, including electrodeposition, DC magnetron sputtering, and mechanical alloying, on the thermal stability and phase stability of Ni-W.Several thermal stability mechanisms were identified throughout the course of this research. First and foremost, W-segregation was scarcely observed to grain boundaries, and it is unclear if W-segregation improves thermal stability contrary to most reports in the2literature. Long-range Ni4W chemical ordering was observed in alloys with more than 20 at.% W, and it is likely Ni4W domains reduce grain boundary mobility. In addition, lattice diffusivity calculations conceptually suggested that increasing W alloying concentrations can decrease the grain growth rate. The strongest evidence of grain growth stagnation was via nanoscale oxide particle drag in highly contaminated electrodeposited alloys. Interestingly, W-segregation was also detected to the oxide phase boundaries and revealed a potential indirect mechanism of thermal stability.The phase stability of pure and contaminated Ni-W alloys was investigated with density functional theory. Primarily, the calculations suggested that the intermetallic phases NiW and NiW2 are thermodynamically unstable, meaning the binary phase diagram is incorrect, but the ternary carbides Ni6W6C and Ni2W4C are stable. Several Ni-W binary and Ni-W-C ternary phase diagrams were constructed using a simplified CALPHAD approach to improve the understanding of Ni-W phase stability. Lastly, it was determined that the fabrication process greatly influences the impurity types and concentrations of the alloys, and therefore greatly dictate which thermal stability mechanisms are active. Mechanically alloyed samples were found to be the most resistant to grain growth.The findings of this research will hopefully guide future efforts to design more thermally stable nanocrystalline alloys. The link between phase stability and grain growth behavior of Ni-W was thoroughly discussed, as well as the dependence of bulk fabrication processing on the contamination found in the alloys. Ultimately, this research has greatly expanded the general understanding of nanocrystalline Ni-W microstructures, and it is likely that similar phenomena occur in other nanocrystalline systems.