Theoretical prediction and atomic kinetic Monte Carlo simulations of void superlattice self-organization under irradiation
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Nano-structured superlattices may have novel physical properties and irradiation is a powerful mean to drive their self-organization. However, the formation mechanism of superlattice under irradiation is still open for debate. Here we use atomic kinetic Monte Carlo simulations in conjunction with a theoretical analysis to understand and predict the self-organization of nano-void superlattices under irradiation, which have been observed in various types of materials for more than 40 years but yet to be well understood. The superlattice is found to be a result of spontaneous precipitation of voids from the matrix, a process similar to phase separation in regular solid solution, with the symmetry dictated by anisotropic materials properties such as one-dimensional interstitial atom diffusion. This discovery challenges the widely accepted empirical rule of the coherency between the superlattice and host matrix crystal lattice. The atomic scale perspective has enabled a new theoretical analysis to successfully predict the superlattice parameters, which are in good agreement with independent experiments. The theory developed in this work can provide guidelines for designing target experiments to tailor desired microstructure under irradiation. It may also be generalized for situations beyond irradiation, such as spontaneous phase separation with reaction.