Spinodal Decomposition and Order-Disorder Transformation in a Water-Quenched U-6wt%Nb Alloy
Objectives and accomplishments A combinative approach of microhardness testing, tensile testing, and TEM microstructural analysis has been employed to study phase stability and aging mechanisms of a water-quenched U-6wt%Nb (WQ-U6Nb) alloy subjected to different aging schedules that include artificial aging of WQ-U6Nb at 200°C, natural aging of WQ-U6Nb at ambient temperatures for 15 to18 years, and accelerative aging of the naturally aged (NA) alloy at 200°C. During the early stages of
... stages of artificial aging at 200°C, the microhardness values continuously increase as a result of the development of a fine-scale compositional modulation (wavelength: 3 nm) caused by spinodal decomposition. Coarsening of the modulated structure occurs after prolonged aging of WQ-U6Nb at 200°C for 16 hours, which leads to a decrease of microhardness. Phase instability has also been found to occur in the NA alloy, in which the formation of partially ordered phase domains resulting from an atomic-scale spinodal modulation (wavelength: 0.5 nm) renders the appearance of antiphase domain boundaries (APBs) in TEM images. Although 18-year natural aging does not cause a significant change in hardness, it affects dramatically the aging mechanism of WQ-U6Nb subjected to the accelerative aging at 200°C. The result of microhardness measurement shows that the hardness values continuously increase until after aging for 239 hours, and the total hardness increment is twice in magnitude than that in the case of the artificial aging of waterquenched alloy at 200°C. The anomalous increment of hardness for the accelerative aging of NA alloy can be attributed to the precipitation of an ordered U 3 Nb phase. It is accordingly concluded that the long-term natural aging at ambient temperatures can detour the transformation pathway of WQ U-6Nb alloy; it leads to the order-disorder transformation and precipitation of ordered phase in the alloy.