Formation of monatomic metallic glasses through ultrafast liquid quenching

Li Zhong, Jiangwei Wang, Hongwei Sheng, Ze Zhang & Scott X. Mao Nature 512, 177–180 (14 August 2014) doi:10.1038/nature13617 Received 06 April 2014 Accepted 25 June 2014 Published online 06 August 2014

It has long been conjectured that any metallic liquid can be vitrified into a glassy state provided that the cooling rate is sufficiently high1, 2, 3, 4. Experimentally, however, vitrification of single-element metallic liquids is notoriously difficult5. True laboratory demonstration of the formation of monatomic metallic glass has been lacking. Here we report an experimental approach to the vitrification of monatomic metallic liquids by achieving an unprecedentedly high liquid-quenching rate of 1014 K s−1. Under such a high cooling rate, melts of pure refractory body-centred cubic (bcc) metals, such as liquid tantalum and vanadium, are successfully vitrified to form metallic glasses suitable for property interrogations. Combining in situ transmission electron microscopy observation and atoms-to-continuum modelling, we investigated the formation condition and thermal stability of the monatomic metallic glasses as obtained. The availability of monatomic metallic glasses, being the simplest glass formers, offers unique possibilities for studying the structure and property relationships of glasses. Our technique also shows great control over the reversible vitrification–crystallization processes, suggesting its potential in micro-electromechanical applications. The ultrahigh cooling rate, approaching the highest liquid-quenching rate attainable in the experiment, makes it possible to explore the fast kinetics and structural behaviour of supercooled metallic liquids within the nanosecond to picosecond regimes.


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