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Nano Lett. 2009 Nov;9(11):3954-62. doi: 10.1021/nl9032704.

Direct observation of martensitic phase-transformation dynamics in iron by 4D single-pulse electron microscopy.

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  • 1Physical Biology Center for Ultrafast Science and Technology, Arthur Amos Noyes Laboratory of Chemical Physics, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California 91125, USA.


The in situ martensitic phase transformation of iron, a complex solid-state transition involving collective atomic displacement and interface movement, is studied in real time by means of four-dimensional (4D) electron microscopy. The iron nanofilm specimen is heated at a maximum rate of approximately 10(11) K/s by a single heating pulse, and the evolution of the phase transformation from body-centered cubic to face-centered cubic crystal structure is followed by means of single-pulse, selected-area diffraction and real-space imaging. Two distinct components are revealed in the evolution of the crystal structure. The first, on the nanosecond time scale, is a direct martensitic transformation, which proceeds in regions heated into the temperature range of stability of the fcc phase, 1185-1667 K. The second, on the microsecond time scale, represents an indirect process for the hottest central zone of laser heating, where the temperature is initially above 1667 K and cooling is the rate-determining step. The mechanism of the direct transformation involves two steps, that of (barrier-crossing) nucleation on the reported nanosecond time scale, followed by a rapid grain growth typically in approximately 100 ps for 10 nm crystallites.

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