Influence of Externally Imposed and Internally Generated Electrical Fields on Grain Growth, Diffusional Creep, Sintering and Related Phenomena in Ceramics


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Microwaves and spark plasma sintering (SPS) enhance sinterability. Simple electrical fields, applied by means of a pair of electrodes to bare specimens, have been shown to accelerate the rate of superplastic deformation, reduce the time and temperature for sintering, and to retard the rate of grain growth. By inference, the influence of electrical and electromagnetic fields on grain boundary energetics and kinetics is unmistakable. Often, in ceramics, grain boundaries are themselves endowed with space charge that can couple with externally applied fields. The frequency dependence of this coupling ranging from zero frequency to microwave frequencies is discussed. The classical approach for modeling grain growth, creep, and sintering, considers chemical diffusion (self-diffusion) under a thermodynamic driving force, underpinned by a physical mechanism that visualizes the flow of mass transport in a way that reproduces the phenomenological observations. In all instances, the final analytical result can be separated into a product of three functions: one of the grain size, the second related to the thermodynamic driving force, and the third to the kinetics of mass transport. The influence of an electrical field on each of these functions is addressed.The fundamental mechanisms of these electrical interactions are discussed in the following ways: (i) dielectric loss and Joule heating in the crystal and at the grain boundary, (ii) the coupling between mechanical stress and the electrochemical potential of charged species, (iii) the interaction between applied electrical fields and the intrinsic fields that exist within the space charge layers, (iv) and the possibility of nucleating defect avalanches under electrical fields. We limit ourselves to ceramics that have at least some degree of ionic character. In these experiments the electrical fields range from several volts to several hundred volts per centimeter, and the power dissipation from Joule heating is of the order of several watts per cubic centimeter of the specimen. Metals, where very high current densities are obtained at relatively low applied electric fields, leading to phenomenon such as electromigration, are not considered.