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Shear-Induced Brittle Failure along Grain Boundaries in Boron Carbide
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The role that grain boundaries (GBs) can play on mechanical properties has been studied extensively for metals and alloys. However, for covalent solids such as boron carbide (B4C), the role of GB on the inelastic response to applied stresses is not well established. We consider here the unusual ceramic, boron carbide (B4C), which is very hard and lightweight but exhibits brittle impact behavior. We used quantum mechanics (QM) simulations to examine the mechanical response in atomistic structures that model GBs in B4C under pure shear and also with biaxial shear deformation that mimics indentation stress conditions. We carried out these studies for two simple GB models including also the effect of adding Fe atoms (possible sintering aid and/or impurity) to the GB. We found that the critical shear stresses of these GB models are much lower than that for crystalline and twinned B4C. The two GB models lead to different interfacial energies. The higher interfacial energy at the GB only slightly decreases the critical shear stress but dramatically increases the critical failure strain. Doping the GB with Fe decreases the critical shear stress of at the boundary by 14% under pure shear deformation. In all GBs studied here, failure arises from deconstructing the icosahedra within the GB region under shear deformation. We find that Fe dopant interacts with icosahedra at the GB to facilitate this deconstruction of icosahedra. These results provide significant insight into designing polycrystalline B4C with improved strength and ductility.
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