Mechanical properties of tantalum carbide from high-pressure/high-temperature synthesis and first-principles calculations†
As a member of the refractory metal carbide family of materials, TaC is a promising candidate for ultra-high temperature ceramics (UHTC) with desirable mechanical strength. TaC sample quality and therefore mechanical properties are strongly dependent on synthesis method, and atomistic origins of mechanical failure are difficult to assign. Here, we have successfully synthesized high quality densified TaC samples at 5.5 GPa and 1400 °C using the high pressure and high temperature (HPHT) sintering method, with Vickers hardness determined to be 20.9 GPa. First-principles calculations based on the recently developed strain–stress method show that the ideal indentation strength of TaC is about 23.3 GPa in the (10) direction, in excellent agreement with experimental results. The detailed indentation shear deformation analysis and structural snapshots from the calculations indicate that the slip dislocations of TaC layers are the main structural deformation mode during the Vickers indentation process, and that the strong directional Ta–C bonds are responsible for the high mechanical strength of TaC. HPHT synthesis is shown to produce TaC samples with superior strength, and together with accurate first-principles calculations offers crucial insights for rational design and synthesis of novel and advanced UHTC materials.