The Influence of Grain Boundaries on Radiation-Induced Point Defect Production in Materials: A Review of Atomistic Studies
Radiation-induced defects cause severe degradation of materials properties during irradiation that can ultimately cause the material to fail. Consequences of these defects include swelling, embrittlement, and undesirable phase transformations. Nanocrystalline materials, which contain a high density of grain boundaries, have demonstrated enhanced radiation tolerance compared to large grain counterparts under certain conditions. This is because, as has long been recognized, grain boundaries can serve as defect sinks for absorbing and annihilating radiation-induced defects. Increasingly, researchers have examined how grain boundaries influence the direct production of defects during collision cascade, the origin of the radiation-induced defects. In this review article, we analyze the computational studies in this area that have been performed during the past two decades. These studies examine defect production near grain boundaries in metallic, ionic, and covalent systems. It is found that, in most systems, grain boundaries absorb more interstitials than vacancies during the defect production stage. While this is generically true of most boundaries, the detailed interaction between defects and grain boundaries does depend on boundary atomic structure, the stress state near the boundary, cascade-boundary separation, and materials properties. Furthermore, the defect distribution near boundaries is qualitatively different from that in single crystals, with the former often exhibiting larger vacancy clusters and smaller interstitial clusters than the latter. Finally, grain boundaries that are damaged after cascades have occurred exhibit different interaction behavior with defects than their pristine counterparts. Together, these atomistic simulation results provide useful insight for both developing higher-level modeling of defect evolution at long timescales and how interfaces influence radiation damage evolution.