Microstructural Design of Silicon Nitride with Improved Fracture Toughness: I, Effects of Grain Shape and Size


  • S. M. Wiederhorn—contributing editor


The use of self-reinforcement by larger elongated grains in silicon nitride ceramics requires judicious control of the microstructure to achieve high steady-state toughness and high fracture strength. With a distinct bimodal distribution of grain diameters, such as that achieved by the addition of 2% rodlike seeds, the fracture resistance rapidly rises with crack extension to steady-state values of up to 10 MPam1/2 and is accompanied by fracture strengths in excess of 1 GPa. When the generation of elongated reinforcing grains is not regulated, a broad grain diameter distribution is typically generated. While some toughening is achieved, both the plateau (steady-state) toughness and the R-curve response suffer, and the fracture strength undergoes a substantial reduction. Unreinforced equiaxed silicon nitride exhibits the least R-curve response with a steady-state toughness of only 3.5 MPam1/2 coupled with a reduced fracture strength.