Solid state amorphization can occur when a crystalline phase is compressed at a sufficiently low temperature to inhibit kinetically the transformation to a stable high pressure crystalline phase. An example of such a vitrification transformation occurs in α-quartz, the most stable phase of SiO2 at standard temperature and pressure conditions. Under pressure at room temperature α-quartz gradually transforms to an amorphous form in the range of 25–30 GPa. The driving force for this amorphization is not clear, and speculation has centered on mechanical instabilities of the quartz crystal under pressure. The elastic properties of α-quartz are studied as a function of pressure using both classical interatomic potentials, and ab initio pseudopotentials. In both cases, we find that the α-quartz structure becomes mechanically unstable at about 30GPa. This finding supports a picture in which the amorphization of quartz is triggered by the onset of a lattice shear-instability. The microscopic origin of this elastic softening is intimately related to the presence of an oxygen close-packed cubic arrangement in the quartz high pressure structure.
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We would like to acknowledge support for this work by the U.S. Department of Energy of the Office of Basic Energy Sciences (Division of Materials Research) under Grant No. DE-FG02-89ER45391. We would also like to acknowledge computational support from the Minnesota Supercomputer Institute.
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Chelikowsky, J.R., Binggeli, N. Elastic Instabilities and Amorphization of Crystalline Silica Under Pressure. MRS Online Proceedings Library 291, 629–639 (1992). https://doi.org/10.1557/PROC-291-629