Crystallization kinetics of a series of Zr-Cu-Al bulk metallic glasses with different glass-forming abilities were systematically investigated using differential scanning calorimetry, time-resolved neutron diffraction, and high-resolution transmission electron microscopy. Experimental results revealed a transition of classic-to-avalanche types of nucleation for the Zr-Cu-Al glass alloys upon isothermal annealing. The classic mode is characterized by a continuous nucleation and growth of Zr2Cu-type crystals. The avalanche mode features an abrupt formation of massive Cu10Zr7-type precipitates with a complex, low-symmetry crystalline structure. Calorimetric measurements identified an anomalous exothermic peak prior to crystallization for metallic glasses with the Cu10Zr7-type crystalline phase. The formation of a metastable amorphous/semi-crystalline phase was observed using the electron microscopy prior to crystallization for glasses with an anomalous exothermic event. Our results indicate that the formation of a metastable phase might lower the free energy barrier of the crystallization and trigger an avalanche type of nucleation. Neutron diffraction pair distribution function analysis suggests that the easy connection of short-range clusters at the medium-range length scale would favor the avalanche nucleation.
S. Lan, et al., Acta Mater., 149, 2018