Interfaces between periodic domains play a crucial role in the properties of metallic materials, as is vividly illustrated by the way in which the familiar malleability of many metals arises from the formation and migration of dislocations. In complex intermetallics, such interfaces can occur as an integral part of the ground-state crystal structure, rather than as defects, resulting in such marvels as the NaCd2 structure (whose giant cubic unit cell contains more than 1000 atoms). However, the sources of the periodic interfaces in intermetallics remain mysterious, unlike the dislocations in simple metals, which can be associated with the exertion of physical stresses. In this Article, we propose and explore the concept of structural plasticity, the hypothesis that interfaces in complex intermetallic structures similarly result from stresses, but ones that are inherent in a defect-free parent structure, rather than being externally applied. Using DFT-chemical pressure analysis, we show how the complex structures of Ca2Ag7 (Yb2Ag7 type), Ca14Cd51 (Gd14Ag51 type), and the 1/1 Tsai-type quasicrystal approximant CaCd6 (YCd6 type) can all be traced to large negative pressures around the Ca atoms of a common progenitor structure, the CaCu5 type with its simple hexagonal 6-atom unit cell. Two structural paths are found by which the compounds provide relief to the Ca atoms' negative pressures: a Ca-rich pathway, where lower coordination numbers are achieved through defects eliminating transition metal (TM) atoms from the structure; and a TM-rich path, along which the addition of spacer Cd atoms provides the Ca coordination environments greater independence from each other as they contract. The common origins of these structures in the presence of stresses within a single parent structure highlights the diverse paths by which intermetallics can cope with competing interactions, and the role that structural plasticity may play in navigating this diversity.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
- Inorganic Chemistry