Materials have been the backbone of every major invention in the history of mankind, e.g. satellites and space shuttles would not exist without advancement in materials development. Integral to this, is the development of nanocrystalline (NC) materials that promise multitude of properties for advanced applications. However, they do not tend to preserve structural integrity under intense cyclic loading or long-term temperature exposures. Therefore, it is imperative to understand factors that alter the sub-features controlling both structural and functional properties under extreme conditions, particularly fatigue and creep. Thus, this dissertation systematically studies the tensile creep and fatigue behaviour of a chemically optimized and microstructurally stable bulk NC copper (Cu)-3at.% tantalum (Ta) alloy.
Strategic engineering of nanometer sized clusters of Ta into the alloy’s microstructure were found to suppress the microstructure instability and render remarkable improvement in the high temperature tensile creep resistance up to 0.64 times the melting temperature of Cu. Primary creep in this alloy was found to be governed by the relaxation of the microstructure under the applied stress. Further, during the secondary creep, short circuit diffusion of grain boundary atoms resulted in the negligible steady-state creep rate in the alloy. Under fatigue loading, the alloy showed higher resistance for crack nucleation owing to the inherent microstructural stability, and the interaction of the dislocations with the Ta nanoclusters. The underlying mechanism was found to be related to the diffused damage accumulation, i.e., during cyclic loading many grains participate in the plasticity process (nucleation of discrete grain boundary dislocations) resulting in homogenous accumulation rather than localized one as typically observed in coarse-grained materials. Overall, the engineered Ta nanoclusters were responsible for governing the underlying anomalous high temperature creep and fatigue deformation mechanisms in the alloy.
Finally, this study presents a design approach that involves alloying of pure metals in order to impart stability in NC materials and significantly enhance their structural properties, especially those at higher temperatures. Moreover, this design approach can be easily translated to other multicomponent systems for developing advanced high-performance structural materials.