Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Materials Science and Engineering

First Advisor

Ralph E. Napolitano


Continually rising energy prices have inspired increased interest in weight reduction in the automotive and aerospace industries, opening the door for the widespread use and development of lightweight structural materials. Chief among these materials are cast Al-Si and magnesium-based alloys. Utilization of Al-Si alloys depends on obtaining a modified fibrous microstructure in lieu of the intrinsic flake structure, a process which is incompletely understood. The local solidification conditions, mechanisms, and tensile properties associated with the flake to fiber growth mode transition in Al-Si eutectic alloys are investigated here using bridgman type gradient-zone directional solidification. Resulting microstructures are examined through quantitative image analysis of two-dimensional sections and observation of deep-etched sections showing three-dimensional microstructural features. The transition was found to occur in two stages: an initial stage dominated by in-plane plate breakup and rod formation within the plane of the plate, and a second stage where the onset of out-of-plane silicon rod growth leads to the formation of an irregular fibrous structure. Several microstructural parameters were investigated in an attempt to quantify this transition, and it was found that the particle aspect ratio is effective in objectively identifying the onset and completion velocity of the flake to fiber transition. The appearance of intricate out-of-plane silicon instability formations was investigated by adapting a perturbed-interface stability analysis to the Al-Si system. Measurements of silicon equilibrium shape particles provided an estimate of the anisotropy of the solid Si/liquid Al-Si system and incorporation of this silicon anisotropy into the model was found to improve prediction of the instability length scale.

Magnesium alloys share many of the benefits of Al-Si alloys, with the added benefit of a 1/3 lower density and increased machinability. Magnesium castings often contain additions of heavier elements, such as zinc, zirconium, and rare earth elements, which significantly improve high temperature performance. However, additions of these elements can lead to macrosegregational effects in castings, which are detectable by radiographic scans. The effect of these flow-line indications on alloy mechanical properties is not well quantified. An examination of these flow-line indications and their effects on mechanical properties in three magnesium-based casting alloys was performed here in order to determine the best practice for dealing with affected castings. Preliminary results suggest the flow-lines do not measurably impact bulk material properties.

Three additional methods of characterizing three-dimensional material structures are also presented: a minimum spanning tree analysis is utilized to quantify local structure in Cu-Zr liquid phase simulations obtained from molecular dynamics; the radial distribution function is applied to directionally solidified Al-Si structures in an attempt to extract local spacing data; and the critical diameter measurement is also defined and applied to irregular eutectic Al-Si structures.

Copyright Owner

Tim A. Hosch



Date Available


File Format


File Size

315 pages