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New technique allows closer study of how radiation damages materials

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Posted August 7, 2013
Researchers at NC State University used high-resolution transmission electron microscopy to simultaneously irradiate magnesium and collect images of voids forming in the material. Credit: Weizong Xu

Researchers at NC State University used high-resolution transmission electron microscopy to simultaneously irradiate magnesium and collect images of voids forming in the material. Credit: Weizong Xu

A team of researchers led by North Carolina State University has developed a technique that provides real-time images of how magnesium changes at the atomic scale when exposed to radiation. The technique may give researchers new insights into how radiation weakens the integrity of radiation-tolerant materials, such as those used in space exploration and in nuclear energy technologies.

 

“We used high-resolution transmission electron microscopy (HRTEM) to simultaneously irradiate the magnesium and collect images of the material at the atomic scale,” says Weizong Xu, a Ph.D. student at NC State and lead author of a paper describing the work. “It is a new way to use an existing technology, and it allowed us to see voids forming and expanding in the material.

“Prior to this, we knew radiation could cause voids that weaken the material, but we didn’t know how the voids formed,” Xu says. Voids are physical gaps in materials that begin at the atomic level and can cause a material to swell or crack.

The researchers looked at magnesium for two reasons. First, magnesium’s atoms arrange themselves into tightly packed layers in a hexagonal structure.

“This is important, because many radiation-tolerant materials have the same structure – including zirconium, which is widely used in research on radiation-tolerant materials such as those used in nuclear power plants,” says Dr. Suveen Mathaudhu, a co-author of the paper and adjunct assistant professor of materials science and engineering at NC State under the U.S. Army Research Office’s Staff Research Program.

Read more at: Phys.org

 

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