Power-law scaling and fractal nature of medium-range order in metallic glasses

Nat Mater. 2009 Jan;8(1):30-4. doi: 10.1038/nmat2340. Epub 2008 Dec 7.


The atomic structure of metallic glasses has been a long-standing scientific problem. Unlike crystalline metals, where long-range ordering is established by periodic stacking of fundamental building blocks known as unit cells, a metallic glass has no long-range translational or orientational order, although some degrees of short- and medium-range order do exist. Previous studies have identified solute- (minority atom)-centred clusters as the fundamental building blocks or short-range order in metallic glasses. Idealized cluster packing schemes, such as efficient cluster packing on a cubic lattice and icosahedral packing as in a quasicrystal, have been proposed and provided first insights on the medium-range order in metallic glasses. However, these packing schemes break down beyond a length scale of a few clusters. Here, on the basis of neutron and X-ray diffraction experiments, we propose a new packing scheme-self-similar packing of atomic clusters. We show that the medium-range order has the characteristics of a fractal network with a dimension of 2.31, and is described by a power-law correlation function over the medium-range length scale. Our finding provides a new perspective of order in disordered materials and has broad implications for understanding their structure-property relationship, particularly those involving a change in length scales.