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Recent search for new superhard materials: Go nano!
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High elastic moduli do not guarantee high hardness because upon finite shear electronic instabilities often occur that resultin transformation to softer phases. Therefore, the author concentrates on the extrinsicallysuperhard nanostructured materials, which are the most promising. Decreasing crystallite sizeresults in strengthening and hardening because the grain boundaries impede the plasticity (e.g., Hall–Petch strengthening in case of dislocationactivity). However, this hardening is limited to a crystallite size down to 10–15 nm below whichsoftening due to grainboundary shear dominates. This softening can be reduced by forming low energygrain boundaries or a stronginterfacial layer. In such a way, much higher hardness enhancement can be achieved. The emphasis will be on theunderstanding of the mechanisms of the hardness enhancement. A special section deals with examples of the presentindustrial applications of such coatings on tools for machining in order to illustrate that thesematerials are already in large-scale use. In the last section, the author summarizes the openquestions and limitations for the preparation of the super- and ultrahard nanocomposite coatings and possible ways onhow to overcome them.
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