The magic thicknesses of θ′ precipitates in Sn-microalloyed Al-Cu

Laure Bourgeois, Christian Dwyer, Matthew Weyland, Jian Feng Nie, Barrington C. Muddle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

120 Scopus citations


θ′ is an effective strengthening precipitate phase in high-strength Al alloys; unfortunately its nucleation is difficult and usually requires assistance, such as that provided by Sn in Sn-microalloyed Al-Cu. In order to clarify the mechanisms by which Sn promotes the nucleation of θ′, we investigated the structure and thickness of θ′ precipitates in a Al-1.7 at.% Cu alloy with trace additions of Sn (0.01 at.%). Scanning transmission electron microscopy imaging reveals that θ′ platelets recently nucleated at 160 and 200 °C exhibit a discrete distribution of specific, or "magic", thicknesses, corresponding to minima in the residual volumetric and shape misfit strain. This observation is unique to the Sn-assisted nucleation of θ′: θ′ platelets that undergo growth or form in the Sn-free alloy do not display this discrete distribution, although preference for the magic thicknesses persists. Direct evidence is presented that Sn does not accommodate volumetric misfit strain. Instead, it is shown that Sn in its solute form reduces either the interfacial energy of θ′ and/or the transformation shape strain associated with thicknesses intermediate to the magic thicknesses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)633-644
Number of pages12
JournalActa Materialia
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Aluminium alloys
  • Heterogeneous nucleation
  • High-angle annular dark field (HAADF)
  • Precipitation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Electronic, Optical and Magnetic Materials
  • Ceramics and Composites
  • Polymers and Plastics
  • Metals and Alloys


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