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Chris Bilsland - A Microstructurally Informed Structural Integrity Analysis of Austenitic Alloys For Nuclear Power Applications

Project Title: A Microstructurally Informed Structural Integrity Analysis of Austenitic Alloys For Nuclear Power Applications

ICO-CDT in Nuclear Energy

Funded by the EPSRC and Rolls-Royce

Academic Supervisor: Dr. Ben Britton (Imperial College)

Industrial Supervisor: Dr. Andrew Barrow (Rolls-Royce)

Duration: 01/10/2018-31/09/2021


Stress Corrosion Cracking (SCC) is a type of cracking that occurs only when three factors are present, setting it apart as unique to corrosion. These factors are, tensile stress, environment and material where each material will have specific and generally unique environmental conditions that are required. A microstructural feature that has been shown to impact both the sensitivity to general corrosion and resistance to SCC is the distribution of chromium carbide precipitates. A proposed mechanism for this SCC resistance is crack tip blunting from inter-granular carbides (Bruemmer, Charlot and Henager, 1988). Figure 1 shows one such carbide. The goal of this project to; develop an understanding of the distribution of these carbides in Inconel Alloys, and elucidate the relationship between microstructure and SCC sensitivity. The focus will be on the application of Electron Microscopy based techniques to quantitatively characterize the type, shape and distribution of the carbides with an understanding of local strain. The primary techniques involved will be HR-EBSED for strain, STEM based TKD and EDX for analysis of spatial distribution and type of precipitate.

Chris Bilsland
Figure 1: Phase map identifying a Chromium Carbide precipitate within the Inconel 600 matrix, (left) with the Energy Dispersive X-ray Spectrum for the Chromium Phase (right).

Dafni Daskalaki-Mountanou - Microstructural Sensitivity of Stress Relaxation Cracking

Investigator: Dafni Daskalaki-Mountanou

Project Title: Microstructural Sensitivity of Stress Relaxation Cracking

Supervisor: Dr Ben Britton, Prof Mary Ryan, Prof Alex Porter

Duration: March 2017-March 2020

Funding: Shell Global Solutions

 Stress relaxation cracking (SRC) is a degradation mechanism which occurs in stainless steels and nickel alloys between 550° C and 750°C operation temperature. SRC is a failure mode which can occur during post-weld heat treatment, within 1 to 2 years of service. Cracked regions are located in the heat treatment affected zone (HAZ) or in cold deformed areas subject to long term annealing. An intergranular crack is developed due to high temperature relaxation of internal stress causes local deformation within the microstructure, i.e. a creep failure mechanism.

The project will decouple the impact of microstructural history, chemical composition, temperature and loading conditions using bespoke mechanical testing and characterisation. This will enable us to explore the fundamental mechanisms of creep, stress relaxation, and the role of chemistry in the formation and propagation of microstructurally sensitive cracks during service.

Figure: ARGUS forescatter diode images revealing orientation contrast of Ni based 800H alloy samples, heat treated at different conditions: (i) as received, (ii)at 650°C 168hr, (iii) at ~980°C 3hr and (iv)at 1200°C 48hr

Xinping Fan - Strain partitioning in dual phase titanium alloys for aerospace applications

Title: strain partitioning in dual phase titanium alloys for aerospace applications

Investigator: Xinping Fan

Supervisors: Ben Britton (primary), Fionn Dunne (secondary)

Duration: 2017 Sept 30 – 2020 Sept 29


Dwell fatigue was one of the major causes for crack initiation on aeroengine discs, which lead to the reduction of service life. Cold dwell fatigue (CDF) was a complex deformation process that can take place at room temperature. This project is aiming to understand the role of microstructure on damage accumulation in Ti-624x series, with controlled microstructures, and understand how they perform in complex cyclic loading regimes. Major characterisation techniques will be high spatial resolution digital image correlation and high resolution electron backscatter diffraction. Experimental results combined with crystal plasticity modelling will be used to understand the strain partitioning in Ti-624x alloys.

Alexander Foden – Improving Techniques for High Resolution Electron Backscatter Diffraction

Alexander Foden – Improving Techniques for High Resolution Electron Backscatter Diffraction

Investigator: Alexander Foden

Supervisor: Dr. Ben Britton

Duration: 3/10/16 – 3/10/19

Description: Electron backscatter diffraction (EBSD) is a well-established technique used to probe samples with scanning electron microscopy, where an electron beam is fired at a crystalline material and diffracted from crystal planes to form a Kikuchi pattern. In conventional EBSD, images are processed to extract crystal orientation and maps are formed with systematic mapping of a sample surface.

In this project, I will generate new analysis approaches to improve the precision of the EBSD data obtained and wealth of information probed. I will develop these algorithms using dynamical simulations and use them to probe unknown phases, measure orientation with higher precision and understand deformation in engineering materials.

Tianhong Gu - Experimental Micromechanical Characterisation of Solder Alloys

Project title: Experimental Micromechanical Characterisation of Solder Alloys

Investigator: Dr Tianhong Gu

Supervisor / Line Manger: Dr Ben Britton, Finn Giuliani


This project aims to measure individual microstructural units in solder joints (e.g. a βSn grain or embedded Cu6Sn5 crystal) and extract knowledge and understanding of their thermal, mechanical and fatigue response. The experimental programme will combine the precise measurement of individual microstructural units (e.g. βSn critical resolved shear stresses as a function of strain rate using micropillar compression), together with the entire engineering response in well-defined geometries with loading and environments representative of solder in-service conditions. This will utilise new experimental characterisation approaches, based upon in-situ loading & heating at the sub-μm scale as well as of whole solder joints, and will utilise: live imaging to track failure and microstructural evolution; high (angular) resolution electron backscatter diffraction (HR-EBSD) to measure local stress heterogeneity and defect content; and high (spatial) resolution digital image correlation (HR-DIC) to measure permanent shape change.

Tianhong Gu

Jim Hickey – H2S Corrosion of High Strength Steels

A Project Title – H2S Corrosion of High Strength Steels


Investigator: Jim Hickey

Supervisors: Dr. Ben Britton, Prof. Mary Ryan, Dr. David Payne

Duration: Sep 2015 – March 2019

Funding:  EPSRC & Shell UK


Description: In the presence of aqueous H2S and stress, high strength steels (HSSs) (those with yield strengths > 700 MPa) embrittle and can fail catastrophically. This phenomenon is termed sulphide stress cracking (SSC). Understanding this is crucial since H2S containing oil and gas wells (sour gas wells) are now routinely exploited. HSSs are desirable, if not necessary, for some of the infrastructure of oil wells with extreme environments. The aim of the project is to simulate conditions found in down-well environments and characterise the effect of the environment and load on a series of HSSs to guide mechanistic understanding of the effect of H2S on HSSs. 

Figure 1 – Inverse Pole Figure Map (Z – perpendicular to sample surface) of a sample of interstitial free steel that has been rolled then annealed at 700 ⁰C for 48 hours. The map is of the rolled surface with the rolling direction depicted.
Figure 1 – Inverse Pole Figure Map (Z – perpendicular to sample surface) of a sample of interstitial free steel that has been rolled then annealed at 700 ⁰C for 48 hours. The map is of the rolled surface with the rolling direction depicted.

Mitra Ashrafi Golshan - Development of Characterisation Methods For Aerospace Failure Investigation

Title: Development of Characterisation Methods For Aerospace Failure Investigation

Investigator: Mitra Ashrafi Golshan


Academic Supervisor: Dr Ben Britton, (ICL), Prof Angus Wilkins (Oxford), Dr Katharina Marquart (ICL)

Duration: 21/10/2019– 20/10/2023

Funded: CDT ACM


Advanced engineering components can fail in service. Therefore, recognition of their failure mode type is critical to mitigating of future material failure. Fatigue fracture has been identified as one of the major causes of failure in terms of propagation. This study aims to understand the impact of fatigue fracture propagation and its application in failure analysis using Scanning Electron Microscope Characterization method.

In this project two off materials will be studied; Titanium-64 alloy and Inconel-718 superalloy which are widely used in aerospace applications.  I will develop characterisation methods for the signature of damage and failure of aeroengine components using Electron Backscatter Diffraction (EBSD). Additionally, during this study, the experimental result will be correlated with other methods, including Electron Channelling Contrast Image (ECCI) and Kernel Average Misorientation (KAM) mapping to understand deformation and relate dislocation structures to crack path and impact of fatigue in the two materials. One of the critical aspects of understanding of fatigue is the transition of High Cycle Fatigue (HCF) to a Low Cycle Fatigue (LCF), which both leads to plastic deformation. This work will perform at room temperature and elevated temperature.

Ning Fang - The effects of microalloying on the deformation of hexagonal closed packed alloys

Title: The effects of microalloying on the deformation of hexagonal closed packed alloys

Investigator:  Ning Fang

Supervisor:  Dr Ben Britton and Dr Finn Giuliani (Co-supervisor)

Duration: 20-11-2019 - 19-11-2023


Zircaloy-4 (Zr4) is a vital engineering material used in nuclear power reactors because of its low neutron capture cross section and excellent mechanical properties. Deformation behaviour is important for the nuclear safety as it has the possibility to cause failure. Despite previous experiments done on the low strain rate deformation, there is still a lack of research in the area of high rate deformation. Deformation at high strain rates can happen in extreme conditions. These conditions are difficult to simulate because of the inertial contributions and the stress wave under large-scale tests.
In my project, micromechanical testing will be performed using focus ion beam (FIB) machined mechanical test specimens, which are subsequently tested in the scanning electron microscope (SEM). To aid understanding of the deformation performance, surface strain analysis will be performed using digital image correlation (DIC) to provide 2D maps of the surface strain during the tests. Tests will be performed at a range of strain rates (from 10-4 to 102) using an Alemnis system. These experiments will be modelled using crystal plasticity finite element modelling (in collaboration with Professor Fionn Dunne) to extract micromechanical properties and calibrate experimental models.

Ruth Birch - Understanding hydrides and microstructures in zircaloy-4

Title: Understanding hydrides and microstructures in zircaloy-4

Investigator: Ruth Birch


Academic Supervisor: Dr Ben Britton, (ICL), Dr Katharina Marquart (ICL)


Funded: EPSRC


Zirconium cladding materials are used in nuclear reactors to contain the fuel in high temperature water. In this project, I am developing new methods of microstructural characterisation and in-situ testing to understand hydrides and microstructure evolution in these materials. This involves significant developments using electron backscatter diffraction (EBSD).

Sarah Hiew Sze Kei - H2S Cracking in Pipeline TMCP Steel

Title: H2S Cracking in Pipeline TMCP Steel

Investigator: Sarah Hiew Sze Kei


  • Dr Ben Britton, Dr Stella Pedrazzini and Dr Thibaut Dessolier (Engineering Alloys at Imperial College)
  • Willem Maarten van Haaften (Advanced Interfaces in Materials Science UTC at Shell Global Solutions International B.V.)

Duration: Nov 2019 – May 2024

Funding:  Advanced Interfaces in Materials Science UTC and Shell Global Solutions International B.V.


Thermo-Mechanical Control Process (TMCP) steels were used as pipeline structures within the oil and natural gas industry due to its high strength, toughness and weldability. Despite being long accepted for operation, there is a risk that TMCP steels can be susceptible to sulphide stress cracking (SSC) in the presence of aqueous H2S environment, leading to premature failure. This project aims to study the mechanistic behaviour of TMCP steel under such low pH environment using an in-situ cathodic charging rig designed in-house. Results obtained from the various crack monitoring techniques used during the experiment will be corelated with findings obtained from the post-mortem microstructural analysis. Finally, these observations will be assessed together with those obtained using the autoclave H2S gaseous method.

Dr Thibaut Dessolier - Assessment of microstructural impact on centrifugally cast pipes reformer tubes

Investigator: Dr Thibaut Dessolier

Supervisor: Dr Ben Britton

Co-supervisor:  Dr Finn Giuliani

Funding: Shell Global Solutions

Duration: 03/01/2019 – 31/12/2020 (Postdoctoral researcher)


Resume of the project:

HP series alloys centrifugally cast are generally used in petrochemical plants as reformer tubes for hydrogen production by steam reforming. During the gas process, reformer tubes are exposed to high temperature (range between 700 to 1000°C) while steam flow inside of it at a pressure around 5 MPa. Creep damage may occur in these tubes due to a combination of temperature, time and stress solicitation which can lead to tube failure. In this situation, HP series alloys (≈ Fe - 35Ni - 25Cr – 1.5Nb - 0.4C wt% plus minor other elements) are used as they have a good resistance against high temperature creep and carburization. Tubes are formed using centrifugal casting and this results in a complex through-wall microstructure, with equiaxed grains at the tube inside diameter (ID) and columnar grains towards the outside diameter (OD) as Figure 1 shown it.

Thibaut Dessolier
Figure 1: Optical image for a reformer tube from the ID to the OD. EBSD analyses were performed along the tube section with inverse pole figure map along the x direction. Blue rectangle show an area close to ID composed with equiaxed grains while the red rectangle highlight the presence of columnar grains in the rest of the microstructure.

The main purpose of this project is to assess the effect of creep deformation on the localisation of the plastic strain heterogeneities inside the microstructure of a HP40Nb alloy reformer tube. To do so, high temperature mechanical tests will be performed while plastic strain heterogeneities will be capture digital images correlation (DIC) thus high resolution EBSD. Figure 2 and Figure 3 show an example of result from DIC and HR-EBSD technique for strain assessment. Based on the experimental result, plasticity simulation could be used in order to predict creep behaviour and improve tube life management.









[1]        J. Jiang, F. P. E. Dunne, and T. Ben Britton, “Toward Predictive Understanding of Fatigue Crack Nucleation in Ni-Based Superalloys,” J. Miner. Met. Mater. Soc., vol. s7-IV, no. 82, pp. 863–871, 2017, doi: 10.1007/s11837-017-2307-9.


Dr Yi Guo - Mechanism of deformation and failure in Nickel base superalloy

Title: Mechanism of deformation and failure in Nickel base superalloy

Investigator: Yi Guo

Supervisor: Dr Ben Britton

Funding: Beijing Institute of Aeronautical Materials (BIAM)

Description: Ni superalloy carries safety critical responsibility while operating in a most harsh environment in gas turbine. The ability to predict the deformation and lifetime of this material is important for accurate mission control. In this project, I study the deformation heterogeneity at casting pores and cracks, in a second-generation superalloy ‘DD6’, using high resolution EBSD (HR-EBSD), digital image correlation (DIC), crystal plasticity finite element (CPFE) simulation. The project aims to gain a fundamental understanding of the void growth, crack nucleation, and the competition between crack growth and dislocation slip in the context of dislocation theories.

Yi Guo
Figure: In-plane stress field and geometrically necessary dislocation density distribution, at a casting pore, measured by HR-EBSD underload. The stress field has been reference shifted based on CPFE simulation.

Yusen Wang - Plastic deformation of lead-free solders

Title: Plastic deformation of lead-free solders

Investigator: Yusen Wang


  • Dr Ben Britton, Dr Tianhong Gu, Dr Finn Giuliani

Duration: 14-10-2019 - 29-03-2024

Funding:  Self


Lead-free solders are used as interconnects in many electronic devices. At room temperature they are at a significant fraction of their melting temperature (>0.6Tm) and can fail due to creep. Furthermore, when devices are dropped they can be deformed at very high strain rate. In this project, I am using variable temperature and variable strain rate macro- and micro-mechanical testing to understanding the role of intermetallic compounds found in lead free solders.