Microstructure, toughness and flexural strength of self-reinforced silicon nitride ceramics doped with yttrium oxide and ytterbium oxide


Dr Y. S. Zheng, Department of Physics, Hong Kong University of Science & Technology, Clear Water Bay, Kowloon, Hong Kong, China. Tel.: +852 2358 8860; fax: +852 2358 1652; e-mail: phyesha@usk.hk


Self-reinforced silicon nitride ceramics with additions of either yttrium oxide or ytterbium oxide have been investigated at room temperature after various processing heat treatments. Devitrification of the intergranular phase in these materials is very sensitive to the heat treatment used during processing and does not necessarily improve their strength and toughness. Hot-pressed ceramics without a subsequent devitrification heat treatment were the strongest. The ytterbium oxide-doped silicon nitride ceramics were consistently tougher, but less strong, than the yttrium oxide-doped silicon nitride ceramics. In all the ceramics examined, the fracture toughness showed evidence for R-curve behaviour. This was most significant in pressureless sintered ytterbium oxide-doped silicon nitride ceramics. A number of toughening mechanisms, including crack deflection, bridging, and fibre-like grain pull-out, were observed during microstructural analysis of the ceramics. In common with other silicon nitride-based ceramics, thin amorphous films were found at the grain boundaries in each of the ceramics examined. Arrays of dislocations left in the elongated silicon nitride grains after processing were found to belong to the {101¯0}<0001> primary slip system.