Processing, Microstructure, and Mechanical Properties of Si3N4/SiC Nanocomposites from Precursor Derived Ceramics
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Polymer-derived ceramics (PDCs) provides a unique processing route to create Si3N4/SiC composites. Silazane precursor polyureasilazane (Ceraset PURS20) produce’s an amorphous SiCN ceramic at temperatures of ~800 – 1200 ˚C and crystallizes to a Si3N4/SiC nanocomposite at temperatures >1500 ˚C. A novel processing technique was developed where crosslinked polymers were heat-treated in a reactive NH3 atmosphere to control the stoichiometry of the pyrolyzed SiCN ceramic. Using this technique processing parameters were established to produce SiCN powders that resulted in nanocomposites with approximately 0, 5, 10, 20 and 30 vol. % SiC. Lu2O3 was added to these powders as a sintering aid and were densified using Hot Pressing and Field Assisted Sintering. The sintered nanocomposites resulted in microstructures with multiple-length scales. These length-scales included Si3N4 (0.1 – 5 µm), SiC (10 – 100 nm) and the intergranular grain boundary phase (<1 nm). Using a combination of SEM and TEM it was possible to quantify some of these microstructural features such as the size and location of the SiC. Hardness and fracture toughness testing was conducted to compared the room temperature mechanical properties of these resultant microstructures. This research was intended to develop robust processing approaches that can be used to control the nanostructures of Si3N4/SiC composites with significant structural features at multiple length scales. The control of their features and the investigation of their affect on the properties of composites can be used to simulate the affect of the structure on properties. These models can then be used to design optimal microstructures for specific applications.