Consideration of the martensitic nucleation process as a sequence of steps which take the particle from maximum to minimum coherency leads to the hypothesis that the first step in martensitic nucleation is faulting on planes of closest packing. It is further postulated that the faulting displacements are derived from an existing defect, while matrix constraints cause all subsequent processes to occur in such a way as to leave the fault plane unrotated, thus accounting for the observed general orientation relations. Using basic concepts of classical nucleation theory, the stacking fault energy is shown to consist of both volume energy and surface energy contributions. When the volume energy contribution is negative, the fault energy decreases with increasing fault thickness such that the fault energy associated with the simultaneous dissociation of an appropriate group of dislocations (e.g. a finite tilt boundary segment) can be zero or negative. This condition leads to the spontaneous formation of a martensitic embryo. For the specific case of the fcc → hcp martensitic transformation in Fe-Cr-Ni alloys, the defect necessary to account for spontaneous embryo formation at the observed M s temperatures may consist of four or five properly spaced lattice dislocations. Such defects are considered to be consistent with the known sparseness of initial martensitic nucleation sites.
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