Effect of transport mechanism on the coarsening of bicontinuous structures: A comparison between bulk and surface diffusion

W. Beck Andrews, Kate L.M. Elder, Peter W. Voorhees, Katsuyo Thornton*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Coarsening of bicontinuous microstructures is observed in a variety of systems, such as nanoporous metals and mixtures that have undergone spinodal decomposition. To better understand the morphological evolution of these structures during coarsening, we compare the morphologies resulting from two different coarsening mechanisms, surface and bulk diffusion. We perform phase-field simulations of coarsening via each mechanism in a two-phase mixture at nominal volume fractions of 50%-50% and 36%-64%, and the simulated structures are characterized in terms of topology (genus density), the interfacial shape distribution, structure factor, and autocorrelations of phase and mean curvature. We observe self-similar evolution of morphology and topology and agreement with the expected power laws for dynamic scaling, in which the characteristic length scale increases over time proportionally to t1/4 for surface diffusion and t1/3 for bulk diffusion. While we observe the expected difference in the coarsening kinetics, we find that differences in self-similar morphology due to coarsening mechanism are relatively small, although typically they are larger at 36% volume fraction than at 50% volume fraction. In particular, we find that bicontinuous structures coarsened via surface diffusion have lower scaled genus densities than structures coarsened via bulk diffusion. We also compare the self-similar morphologies to those in literature and to two model bicontinuous structures, namely, constant-mean-curvature surfaces based on the Schoen G minimal surface and random leveled-wave structures. The average scaled mean curvatures of these model structures agree reasonably with those of the coarsened structures at both 36% and 50%, but we find substantial disagreements in the scaled genus densities and the standard deviations of mean curvature.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number103401
JournalPhysical Review Materials
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 14 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Materials Science
  • Physics and Astronomy (miscellaneous)


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