Development of a Modified Embedded Atom Force Field for Zirconium Nitride Using Multi-Objective Evolutionary Optimization

Badri Narayanan, Kiran Sasikumar, Zhi Gang Mei, Alper Kinaci, Fatih G. Sen, Michael J. Davis, Stephen K. Gray, Maria K.Y. Chan, Subramanian K.R.S. Sankaranarayanan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Zirconium nitride (ZrN) exhibits exceptional mechanical, chemical, and electrical properties, which make it attractive for a wide range of technological applications, including wear-resistant coatings, protection from corrosion, cutting/shaping tools, and nuclear breeder reactors. Despite its broad usability, an atomic scale understanding of the superior performance of ZrN, and its response to external stimuli, for example, temperature, applied strain, and so on, is not well understood. This is mainly due to the lack of interatomic potential models that accurately describe the interactions between Zr and N atoms. To address this challenge, we develop a modified embedded atom method (MEAM) interatomic potential for the Zr-N binary system by training against formation enthalpies, lattice parameters, elastic properties, and surface energies of ZrN (and, in some cases, also Zr3N4) obtained from density functional theory (DFT) calculations. The best set of MEAM parameters are determined by employing a multiobjective global optimization scheme driven by genetic algorithms. Our newly developed MEAM potential accurately reproduces structure, thermodynamics, energetic ordering of polymorphs, as well as elastic and surface properties of Zr-N compounds, in excellent agreement with DFT calculations and experiments. As a representative application, we employed molecular dynamics simulations based on this MEAM potential to investigate the atomic scale mechanisms underlying fracture of bulk and nanopillar ZrN under applied uniaxial strains, as well as the impact of strain rate on their mechanical behavior. These simulations indicate that bulk ZrN undergoes brittle fracture irrespective of the strain rate, while ZrN nanopillars show quasi-plasticity owing to amorphization at the crack front. The MEAM potential for Zr-N developed in this work is an invaluable tool to investigate atomic-scale mechanisms underlying the response of ZrN to external stimuli (e.g, temperature, pressure etc.), as well as other interesting phenomena such as precipitation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17475-17483
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Physical Chemistry C
Issue number31
StatePublished - Aug 11 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Electronic, Optical and Magnetic Materials
  • General Energy
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Surfaces, Coatings and Films


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