On the entropic nucleation barrier in a martensitic transformation

Oliver Kastner, Roni Z. Shneck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


The nucleation of martensite in alloys is hindered by a free energy nucleation barrier, hence comprising contributions of the potential energy and the entropy. The leading effect is commonly attributed to the potential energy barrier due to strain fields. In this contribution, we investigate the nature of the entropic barrier by means of molecular dynamics (MD) simulations. We study a transformation process of an undercooled single crystal and examine two nucleation events observed under adiabatic conditions using vibrational mode analysis of the atomic trajectories. Our analysis shows that martensitic nucleations are indicated by transit from a state of uncorrelated into a state of correlated atomic motions. This correlation process is built up locally by a small group of atoms even before the product lattice can be recognized morphologically and it produces vibrational soft modes along transformation paths. Phase space analyses unveil that the correlation process is characterized by narrow domains - nucleation channels - the atomic trajectories have to pass, connecting the phase space domains of the parent and the product lattice. For a successful nucleation event, the nucleus atoms have to pass this channel collectively, which stochastically represents a rare event. Thermal fluctuations prevent finding the channel at elevated temperature and give rise for entropic stabilization of the parent phase. This entropic nucleation barrier is reduced in the undercooled state but still effective, thus preventing the parent phase from collapsing into the product. The entropic barrier may be interpreted as the probability of a group of atoms to simultaneously pass the nucleation channel. Such group then represents a nucleus.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1282-1308
Number of pages27
JournalPhilosophical Magazine
Issue number12
StatePublished - 23 Apr 2015


  • martensitic transformation
  • molecular dynamics simulations
  • nucleation
  • vibrational lattice analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Condensed Matter Physics


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