We interviewed one of the ICARUS lead researchers, Prof. Locci and he gave us a deeper insight into the project's innovations

To learn more about ICARUS achievements, we sat down with one of the researchers heavily involved in the project – Associate Professor in the University of Cagliari- Antonio Locci and discussed with him the results obtained in WP3.

What were the results achieved in WP3?

The end goal of WP3 was to develop an innovative theoretical methodology to describe the thermodynamics of multiphase multicomponent polycrystalline metal alloys and identify new thermodynamically stable nanocrystalline alloys. Classical and statistical thermodynamics were combined in a general theoretical scheme that allows describing the Gibbs free energy of different possible microstructure and systems. The resulting model can also predict the existence of thermodynamically stable nanocrystalline alloys and provides a tool for identifying them based on the available physical and chemical information.

What can you tell us about your findings? How important were your learnings for the overall progress of the project?

Surprising! This is the first word that comes to mind. Our findings are surprising because they represent a clear example of how science works. Immediately after the explosion of nanoscience and nanotechnology as hot topics in materials science around 1990s, thermodynamic stability was definitely ruled out for nanocrystalline alloys. Starting from the end of 1990s, a few researchers argued the possible existence of thermodynamically stable nanocrystalline alloys under very specific and hard-to-meet general conditions. A first proof of concept was given eventually a few years ago for the W-Ti system. Now, not only we show that other thermodynamically stable nanocrystalline alloys exist and they can be actually fabricated, but we also provide a tool allowing the systematic exploration of the thermodynamics of multiphase multicomponent metal alloys.

Since its original design, ICARUS set itself very ambitious objectives. The project proposal has interpreted perfectly the FET OPEN call guidelines, proposing highly innovative and risky research activities aiming at creating a new paradigm in materials science. We have learned progressively new physics and chemistry, running after the revolutionary idea that grain boundary segregation can be the key to thermodynamic stability in nanocrystalline alloys. And we succeeded, in the end. Thus, once again, addressing difficult questions, and not restricting to those for which we have reassuring responses, is the best way to foster progress in science.

What were the innovative techniques been used?

We have developed a new approach to the thermodynamics of polycrystalline metal alloys starting from the classical regular solution model. In particular, we related the Gibbs free energy of the alloy to the local configuration and energy of chemical bonds in grain boundaries. The model obtained, although within specific constraints and limitations, can be tailored to the different case studies and systems.

 

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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 713514.

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