Comparison of segregations formed in unmodified and Sr-modified Al-Si alloys studied by atom probe tomography and transmission electron microscopy

The mechanical properties of Al-7 wt.% Si can be enhanced by structural modifications of its eutectic phase. Addition of low concentrations of certain elements, in this case 150 wt-ppm Sr, is enough to cause a transition from a coarse plate-like Si structure to a finer coralline one. To fully understand the operating mechanism of this modification, the composition of the eutectic Si phase in unmodified and Sr-modified alloys was analysed and compared by atom probe tomography and (scanning) transmission electron microscopy. The unmodified alloy showed nanometre sized Al-segregations decorating defects, while the Sr-modified sample presented three types of Al–Sr segregations: (1) rod-like segregations that promote smoothening of the Al–Si boundaries in the eutectic phase, (2) particle-like segregations comparable to the ones seen in the unmodified alloy, and (3) planar segregations favouring the formation of twin boundaries. Al and Sr solubilities in Si after solidification were determined to be 430 ± 160 at-ppm and 40 ± 10 at-ppm, respectively. Sr predominantly segregates to the Si phase confirming its importance in the modification of the eutectic growth.