Atomic-scale investigation of carbon atom migration in surface induced white layers in high-carbon medium chromium (AISI 52100) bearing steel
Journal article, 2017

The microstructure and chemical composition of white layers (WLs) formed during hard turning of AISI 52100 steel were studied using atom probe tomography (APT) and transmission electron microscopy (TEM). APT analyses revealed a major difference in the re-distribution of the carbon (C) atoms between WLs formed above and below the Ac1 temperature, i.e. T-WL and M-WL, respectively. In T-WL, the C-atoms segregate to grain boundaries (GBs) forming interconnected or isolated C-rich clusters, ∼5 nm, with a concentration of 9.8 ± 0.3 at.%C. Apart from the GB segregation, in M-WLs, large C-rich regions were found with 24.8 ± 0.4 at.%C. Owing to the chemical composition (stoichiometry) and element partitioning of such regions, they were assigned as θ-carbides (cementite). The APT results reveal that the original θ-carbides remain un-dissolved in the M-WLs, but might be plastically deformed due to the excessive strain that exists in hard machining process. The obtained results are in good agreement with the temperatures that are reached during formation of M-WLs. The isolated nano-sized C-clusters were assigned as off-stoichiometric carbides whereas the interconnected C-rich clusters were attributed to Cottrell atmospheres, evident by the linear shape of the C-enrichment as observed in the APT reconstructions. The C-contents in the nano-sized martensitic and ferritic grains were estimated to 0.50 ± 0.06 at.%C and ∼0.46 ± 0.02 at.%C, respectively. The C-content in the ferritic grains, beyond the C-solubility limit in ferrite (<0.1 at.%) is governed by the high dislocation density inside the grains, supported by the favorable binding energy between dislocations and C-atoms compared to C-atoms and Fe in carbides. No other evidence of redistribution of the substitutional alloying elements was observed. TEM analyses showed that T-WLs comprises of an equiaxed and nano-sized grains with well-defined cell boundaries, whereas the structure in the M-WLs comprised of elongated sub-grains formed via re-orientation of the original martensite followed by breakage/partitioning into elongated sub-grains.

White layer


Carbon diffusion

Nanocrystalline microstructure

Atom probe tomography


Seyed Hosseini

Chalmers, Materials and Manufacturing Technology, Surface and Microstructure Engineering

Mattias Thuvander

Chalmers, Physics, Materials Microstructure

Uta Klement

Chalmers, Materials and Manufacturing Technology, Surface and Microstructure Engineering

Gustav Sundell

Chalmers, Physics, Materials Microstructure

Kristina Ryttberg

SKF Group

Acta Materialia

1359-6454 (ISSN)

Vol. 130 155-163

Subject Categories

Mechanical Engineering

Materials Engineering

Physical Sciences

Areas of Advance


Materials Science


Basic sciences


Chalmers Materials Analysis Laboratory



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