From nanoparticles to nanocrystalline bulk: percolation effects in field assisted sintering of silicon nanoparticles
Nanocrystalline bulk materials are desirable for many applications as they combine mechanical strength and specific electronic transport properties. Our bottom-up approach starts with tailored nanoparticles. Compaction and thermal treatment are crucial, but usually the final stage sintering is accompanied by rapid grain growth which spoils nanocrystallinity. For electrically conducting nanoparticles, field activated sintering techniques overcome this problem. Small grain sizes have been maintained in spite of consolidation. Nevertheless, the underlying principles, which are of high practical importance, have not been fully elucidated yet. In this combined experimental and theoretical work, we show how the developing microstructure during sintering correlates with the percolation paths of the current through the powder using highly doped silicon nanoparticles as a model system. It is possible to achieve a nanocrystalline bulk material and a homogeneous microstructure. For this, not only the generation of current paths due to compaction, but also the disintegration due to Joule heating is required. The observed density fluctuations on the micrometer scale are attributed to the heat profile of the simulated powder networks.
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