Ab initio Studies of Metal Hexaboride Materials
AuthorSchmidt, Kevin M.
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Metal hexaborides are refractory ceramics with several qualities relevant to materials design, such as low work functions, high hardness, low thermal expansion coefficients, and high melting points, among many other properties of interest for industrial applications. Thermal and mechanical stability is a common feature provided by the covalently-bonded network boron atoms, and electronic properties can vary significantly with the resident metal. While these materials are currently employed as electron emitters and abrasives, promising uses of these materials also include catalytic applications for chemical dissociation reactions of various molecules such as hydrogen, water and carbon monoxide, for example. However, these extensions require a thorough understanding of particular mechanical and electronic properties. This dissertation is a collection of studies focused on understanding the behavior of metal hexaboride materials using computational modeling methods to investigate materials properties of these from both classical and quantum mechanical points of view. Classical modeling is performed using molecular dynamics methods with interatomic potentials obtained from density functional theory (DFT) calculations. Atomic mean-square displacements from the quasi-harmonic approximation and lattice energetic data are produced with DFT for developing the potentials. A generalized method was also developed for the inversion of cohesive energy curves of crystalline materials; pairwise interatomic potentials are extracted using detailed geometrical descriptions of the atomic interactions and a list of atomic displacements and degeneracies. The surface structure of metal hexaborides is studied with DFT using several model geometries to describe the terminal cation layouts, and these provide a basis for further studies on metal hexaboride interactions with hydrogen. The surface electronic structure calculations show that segregated regions of metal and boron-terminations produce the lowest energies for di-cations of CaB6, SrB6 and BaB6, while tri-valent LaB6 minimizes its surface energy by arranging the metal ions in parallel rows on the surface. Studies involving hydrogen suggest that a single molecule per surface unit-cell is possible, and evidence is given for a dissociative adsorption pathway.Ternary mixtures of metal hexaborides containing two alkaline-earth cations in each crystal are also investigated with electronic structure methods. Multiple geometries are used to understand how spatial arrangements of cations within the mixture can affect properties related to stability. Bond-lengths within the boron framework are found to be heavily dependent upon the local cation environment, and energies taken at absolute zero suggest certain stoichiometries naturally lead to phase splitting.