Carl Koch

North Carolina State University


Bulk nanostructured materials are defined as bulk solids with nanoscale or partly nanoscale microstructures. This category of nanostructured materials has historical roots going back many decades but has a relatively recent focus due to new discoveries of unique properties of some nanoscale materials.

Early in the century, when "microstructures" were revealed primarily with the optical microscope, it was recognized that refined microstructures, for example, small grain sizes, often provided attractive properties such as increased strength and toughness in structural materials. A classic example of property enhancement due to a refined microstructure-with features too small to resolve with the optical microscope-was age hardening of aluminum alloys. The phenomenon, discovered by Alfred Wilm in 1906, was essentially explained by Merica, Waltenberg, and Scott in 1919 (Mehl and Cahn 1983, 18), and the microstructural features responsible were first inferred by the X-ray studies of Guinier and Preston in 1938. With the advent of transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and sophisticated X-ray diffraction methods it is now known that the fine precipitates responsible for age hardening, in Al-4% Cu alloys, for example, are clusters of Cu atoms-Guinier-Preston (GP) zones-and the metastable partially coherent q ' precipitate (Silcock et al. 1953-54; Cohen 1992). Maximum hardness is observed with a mixture of GPII (or q ") (coarsened GP zones) and q ' with the dimensions of the q ' plates, typically about 10 nm in thickness by 100 nm in diameter. Therefore, the important microstructural feature of age-hardened aluminum alloys is nanoscale. There are a number of other examples of nanoscale microstructures providing optimized properties. The critical current density JC of commercial superconducting Nb3Sn is controlled by grain size and is inversely proportional to grain size, with grain sizes of 50-80 nm providing high values of JC (Scanlan et al. 1975).

The field of nanocrystalline (or nanostructured, or nanophase) materials as a major identifiable activity in modern materials science results to a large degree from the work in the 1980s of Gleiter and coworkers (Gleiter 1990), who synthesized ultrafine-grained materials by the in situ consolidation of nanoscale atomic clusters. The ultrasmall size (< 100 nm) of the grains in these nanocrystalline materials can result in dramatically improved-or different-properties from conventional grain-size (> 1 Ám) polycrystalline or single crystal materials of the same chemical composition. This is the stimulus for the tremendous appeal of these materials.

While there are a number of bulk properties that may be dramatically changed when the microstructure is nanoscale, this chapter focuses on those for which the recent work with nanostructured materials has been most extensive. These are (1) the mechanical properties of nanostructured materials for a variety of potential structural applications, and (2) ferromagnetic materials with nanoscale microstructures for potential applications as soft magnetic materials and permanent magnet materials, and for other special applications such as information storage, magnetoresistance spin valves, and magnetic nanocomposite refrigerants. Other bulk applications such as hydrogen storage are discussed briefly.

Published: September 1999; WTEC Hyper-Librarian