Strength refers to a material's ability to withstand failure or yield, while ductility is its ability to permanently deform without fracture. Many important engineering applications require high strength and yet ductile materials, such as in cutting tools, body armor for soldiers, and manufacturing process. One promising candidate is boron carbide, a so-called superhard ceramic names so because of its strength; however, it has low ductility. In poly-crystalline materials, the strength and ductility are commonly associated with microstructural features at the lower length scales (micrometers and below). There is a significant knowledge gap regarding the impact of microstructure on the strength and ductility of superhard ceramics. This project is directed towards the study of the physical mechanisms that underlie the relationships between microstructure, and strength and ductility of boron carbide based materials using computational modeling and simulations. The project will also establish design principles based on the knowledge gained for the development of new boron carbide based materials with enhanced strength and ductility. The design strategies will be extendable to a variety of other superhard materials, such as borides, carbides, and diamond. The research will be integrated into both undergraduate and graduate education, as well as outreach activities for local high school students. The research project will also target the participation of women and under-represented minority students in science, technology, engineering, and math disciplines.

The research objective of this project is to illustrate how microstructure determines the deformation and mechanical processes in boron carbide based materials. The research team will apply a multiscale approach coupling atomistic modeling and the mesoscale phase field method to (1) investigate the impact of grain boundaries on mechanical properties, deformation, and failure mechanisms of boron carbide; and (2) establish the design principles to enhance the strength and ductility of boron carbide through engineering of grain boundary properties with microalloying. The research will make original contributions in elucidating the origins of the strength and ductility of polycrystalline superhard ceramics under realistic conditions. The materials design principles will be applied to inspire experimental synthesis of stronger and tougher boron carbide based materials for commercial applications.

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Board of Regents, Nshe, Obo University of Nevada, Reno
United States
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