Furnace for in situ and simultaneous studies of nano-precipitates and phase transformations in steels by SANS and neutron diffraction

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Interphase precipitation occurring during solid-state phase transformations in micro-alloyed steels is generally studied through transmission electron microscopy, atom probe tomography, and ex situ measurements of Small-Angle Neutron Scattering (SANS). The advantage of SANS over the other two characterization techniques is that SANS allows for the quantitative determination of size distribution, volume fraction, and number density of a statistically significant number of precipitates within the resulting matrix at room temperature. However, the performance of ex situ SANS measurements alone does not provide information regarding the probable correlation between interphase precipitation and phase transformations. This limitation makes it necessary to perform in situ and simultaneous studies on precipitation and phase transformations in order to gain an in-depth understanding of the nucleation and growth of precipitates in relation to the evolution of austenite decomposition at high temperatures. A furnace is, thus, designed and developed for such in situ studies in which SANS measurements can be simultaneously performed with neutron diffraction measurements during the application of high-temperature thermal treatments. The furnace is capable of carrying out thermal treatments involving fast heating and cooling as well as high operation temperatures (up to 1200 °C) for a long period of time with accurate temperature control in a protective atmosphere and in a magnetic field of up to 1.5 T. The characteristics of this furnace give the possibility of developing new research studies for better insight of the relationship between phase transformations and precipitation kinetics in steels and also in other types of materials containing nano-scale microstructural features.