Nucleation of voids under irradiation in multicomponent alloys remains an unsolved theoretical problem. Of particular interest are the effects of nonequilibrium solute segregation phenomena on the critical nucleus and the nucleation rate. The resolution of the multicomponent nucleation in a dissipative system also has broader implication to the field of irreversible thermodynamics. The present paper describes a recent study of solute segregation effects in void nucleation.
We begin with a thermodynamic model for a nonequilibrium void with interfacial segregation. The thermodynamic model is coupled with kinetic considerations of solute/solvent diffusion under a bias, which is itself related to segregation by the coating effect, to assess the stability of void embryos. To determine nucleation rate, we develop a novel technique by extending the most probable path method in statistical mechanics for nonequilibrium steady state to simulate large fluctuation with nonlinear dissipation. The path of nucleation is determined by solving an analogous problem on particle trajectory in classical dynamics.
The results of both the stability analysis and the fluctuation analysis establish the paramount significance of the impurity effect via the mechanism of nonequilibrium segregation. We conclude that over-segregation is probably the most general cause for the apparently low nucleation barriers that are responsible for nearly ubiquitous occurrence of void swelling in common metals.