NiTiFe, Shape memory alloys, actuators, neutron diffraction, Rietveld refinement, cryogenic


Shape memory alloys are incorporated as actuator elements due to their inherent ability to sense a change in temperature and actuate against external loads by undergoing a shape change as a result of a temperature-induced phase transformation. The cubic so-called austenite to the trigonal so-called R-phase transformation in NiTiFe shape memory alloys offers a practical temperature range for actuator operation at low temperatures, as it exhibits a narrow temperature-hysteresis with a desirable fatigue response. Overall, this work is an investigation of selected science and engineering aspects of low temperature NiTiFe shape memory alloys. The scientific study was performed using in situ neutron diffraction measurements at the newly developed low temperature loading capability on the Spectrometer for Materials Research at Temperature and Stress (SMARTS) at Los Alamos National Laboratory and encompasses three aspects of the behavior of Ni46.8Ti50Fe3.2 at 92 K (the lowest steady state temperature attainable with the capability). First, in order to study deformation mechanisms in the R-phase in NiTiFe, measurements were performed at a constant temperature of 92 K under external loading. Second, with the objective of examining NiTiFe in one-time, high-stroke, actuator applications (such as in safety valves), a NiTiFe sample was strained to approximately 5% (the R-phase was transformed to B19' phase in the process) at 92 K and subsequently heated to full strain recovery under a load. Third, with the objective of examining NiTiFe in cyclic, low-stroke, actuator applications (such as in cryogenic thermal switches), a NiTiFe sample was strained to 1% at 92 K and subsequently heated to full strain recovery under load. Neutron diffraction spectra were recorded at selected time and stress intervals during these experiments. The spectra were subsequently used to obtain quantitative information related to the phase-specific strain, texture and phase fraction evolution using the Rietveld technique. The mechanical characterization of NiTiFe alloys using the cryogenic capability at SMARTS provided considerable insight into the mechanisms of phase transformation and twinning at cryogenic temperatures. Both mechanisms contribute to shape memory and pseudoelasticity phenomena. Three phases (R, B19' and B33 phases) were found to coexist at 92 K in the unloaded condition (nominal holding stress of 8 MPa). For the first time the elastic modulus of R-phase was reported from neutron diffraction experiments. Furthermore, for the first time a base-centered orthorhombic (B33) martensitic phase was identified experimentally in a NiTi-based shape memory alloy. The orthorhombic B33 phase has been theoretically predicted in NiTi from density function theory (DFT) calculations but hitherto has never been observed experimentally. The orthorhombic B33 phase was observed while observing shifting of a peak (identified to be B33) between the R and B19' peaks in the diffraction spectra collected during loading. Given the existing ambiguity in the published literature as to whether the trigonal R-phase belongs to the P3 or P space groups, Rietveld analyses were separately carried out incorporating the symmetries associated with both space groups and the impact of this choice evaluated. The constrained recovery of the B19' phase to the R-phase recorded approximately 4% strain recovery between 150 K and 170 K, with half of that recovery occurring between 160 K and 162 K. Additionally, the aforementioned research methodology developed for Ni46.8Ti50Fe3.2 shape memory alloys was applied to experiments performed on a new high temperature Ni29.5Ti50.5Pd20 shape memory alloys. The engineering aspect focused on the development of (i) a NiTiFe based thermal conduction switch that minimized the heat gradient across the shape memory actuator element, (ii) a NiTiFe based thermal conduction switch that incorporated the actuator element in the form of helical springs, and (iii) a NiTi based release mechanism. Patents are being filed for all the three shape memory actuators developed as a part of this work. This work was supported by grants from SRI, NASA (NAG3-2751) and NSF (CAREER DMR-0239512) to UCF. Additionally, this work benefited from the use of the Lujan Center at the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center, funded by the United States Department of Energy, Office of Basic Energy Sciences, under Contract No. W-7405-ENG-36.


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Graduation Date





Vaidyanathan, Rajan


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Engineering and Computer Science


Mechanical, Materials, and Aerospace Engineering

Degree Program

Materials Science and Engineering








Release Date

November 2007

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)