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SEM micrograph of etched pearlite, 2000X. Pearlite.jpg
SEM micrograph of etched pearlite, 2000X.
Atom probe tomography of pearlite. The red dots indicate the positions of carbon atoms. Iron atoms are not shown. The nanotube is shown for size reference. Atom probe tomography of pearlite after wire drawing.gif
Atom probe tomography of pearlite. The red dots indicate the positions of carbon atoms. Iron atoms are not shown. The nanotube is shown for size reference.
Pearlite occurs at the eutectoid of the iron-carbon phase diagram (near the lower left). Phase diag iron carbon.PNG
Pearlite occurs at the eutectoid of the iron-carbon phase diagram (near the lower left).

Pearlite is a two-phased, lamellar (or layered) structure composed of alternating layers of ferrite (87.5 wt%) and cementite (12.5 wt%) that occurs in some steels and cast irons. During slow cooling of an iron-carbon alloy, pearlite forms by a eutectoid reaction as austenite cools below 723 °C (1,333 °F) (the eutectoid temperature). Pearlite is a microstructure occurring in many common grades of steels.


The eutectoid composition of austenite is approximately 0.8% carbon; steel with less carbon content (hypoeutectoid steel) will contain a corresponding proportion of relatively pure ferrite crystallites that do not participate in the eutectoid reaction and cannot transform into pearlite. Likewise steels with higher carbon content (hypereutectoid steels) will form cementite before reaching the eutectoid point. The proportion of ferrite and cementite forming above the eutectoid point can be calculated from the iron/iron—carbide equilibrium phase diagram using the lever rule.

Steels with pearlitic (eutectoid composition) or near-pearlitic microstructure (near-eutectoid composition) can be drawn into thin wires. Such wires, often bundled into ropes, are commercially used as piano wires, ropes for suspension bridges, and as steel cord for tire reinforcement. High degrees of wire drawing (logarithmic strain above 3) leads to pearlitic wires with yield strengths of several gigapascals. It makes pearlite one of the strongest structural bulk materials on earth. [1] Some hypereutectoid pearlitic steel wires, when cold wire drawn to true (logarithmic) strains above 5, can even show a maximal tensile strength above 6 GPa. [2] Although pearlite is used in many engineering applications, the origin of its extreme strength is not well understood. It has been recently shown that cold wire drawing not only strengthens pearlite by refining the lamellae structure, but also simultaneously causes partial chemical decomposition of cementite, associated with an increased carbon content of the ferrite phase, deformation induced lattice defects in ferrite lamellae, [3] and even a structural transition from crystalline to amorphous cementite. The deformation-induced decomposition and microstructural change of cementite is closely related to several other phenomena such as a strong redistribution of carbon and other alloy elements like silicon and manganese in both the cementite and the ferrite phase; a variation of the deformation accommodation at the phase interfaces due to a change in the carbon concentration gradient at the interfaces; and mechanical alloying. [4]

Pearlite was first identified by Henry Clifton Sorby and initially named sorbite, however the similarity of microstructure to nacre and especially the optical effect caused by the scale of the structure made the alternative name more popular.

Bainite is a similar structure with lamellae much smaller than the wavelength of visible light and thus lacks this pearlescent appearance. It is prepared by more rapid cooling. Unlike pearlite, whose formation involves the diffusion of all atoms, bainite grows by a displacive transformation mechanism.

The transformation of pearlite to austenite takes place at lower critical temperature of 723C. At this temperature pearlite changes to austenite because of nucleation process.

Eutectoid steel

Eutectoid steel can in principle be transformed completely into pearlite; hypoeutectoid steels can also be completely pearlitic if transformed at a temperature below the normal eutectoid. [5] [6] Pearlite can be hard and strong but is not particularly tough. It can be wear-resistant because of a strong lamellar network of ferrite and cementite. Examples of applications include cutting tools, high strength wires, knives, chisels, and nails.

Related Research Articles

Steel Metal alloy made by combining iron with other elements

Steel is an alloy of iron with typically a few percent of carbon to improve its strength and fracture resistance compared to iron. Many other additional elements may be present or added. Stainless steels that are corrosion and oxidation resistant need typically an additional 11% chromium. Because of its high tensile strength and low cost, steel is used in buildings, infrastructure, tools, ships, trains, cars, machines, electrical appliances, and weapons. Iron is the base metal of steel and it can take on two crystalline forms : body centred cubic and face-centred cubic. These forms depend on temperature. In the body-centred cubic arrangement, there is an iron atom in the centre and eight atoms at the vertices of each cubic unit cell; in the face-centred cubic, there is one atom at the centre of each of the six faces of the cubic unit cell and eight atoms at its vertices. It is the interaction of the allotropes of iron with the alloying elements, primarily carbon, that gives steel and cast iron their range of unique properties.

Heat treating process of heating something to alter it

Heat treating is a group of industrial, thermal and metalworking processes used to alter the physical, and sometimes chemical, properties of a material. The most common application is metallurgical. Heat treatments are also used in the manufacture of many other materials, such as glass. Heat treatment involves the use of heating or chilling, normally to extreme temperatures, to achieve the desired result such as hardening or softening of a material. Heat treatment techniques include annealing, case hardening, precipitation strengthening, tempering, carburizing, normalizing and quenching. Although the term heat treatment applies only to processes where the heating and cooling are done for the specific purpose of altering properties intentionally, heating and cooling often occur incidentally during other manufacturing processes such as hot forming or welding.

Martensite most commonly refers to a very hard form of steel crystalline structure, but it can also refer to any crystal structure that is formed by diffusionless transformation.

Martensite is a very hard form of steel crystalline structure. It is named after German metallurgist Adolf Martens. By analogy the term can also refer to any crystal structure that is formed by diffusionless transformation.

Cementite iron and carbon compound

Cementite (or iron carbide) is a compound of iron and carbon, more precisely an intermediate transition metal carbide with the formula Fe3C. By weight, it is 6.67% carbon and 93.3% iron. It has an orthorhombic crystal structure. It is a hard, brittle material, normally classified as a ceramic in its pure form, and is a frequently found and important constituent in ferrous metallurgy. While cementite is present in most steels and cast irons, it is produced as a raw material in the iron carbide process, which belongs to the family of alternative ironmaking technologies. The name cementite originated from the research of Floris Osmond and J. Werth, where the structure of solidified steel consists of a kind of cellular tissue in theory, with ferrite as the nucleus and Fe3C the envelope of the cells. The carbide therefore cemented the iron.

Austenite Metallic, non-magnetic allotrope of iron or a solid solution of iron, with an alloying element

Austenite, also known as gamma-phase iron (γ-Fe), is a metallic, non-magnetic allotrope of iron or a solid solution of iron, with an alloying element. In plain-carbon steel, austenite exists above the critical eutectoid temperature of 1000 K (727 °C); other alloys of steel have different eutectoid temperatures. The austenite allotrope is named after Sir William Chandler Roberts-Austen (1843–1902); it exists at room temperature in some stainless steels due to the presence of nickel stabilizing the austenite at lower temperatures.

Bainite Microstructure found in specially treated iron allotropes

Bainite is a plate-like microstructure that forms in steels at temperatures of 125–550 °C. First described by E. S. Davenport and Edgar Bain, it is one of the products that may form when austenite is cooled past a temperature where it no longer is thermodynamically stable with respect to ferrite, cementite, or ferrite and cementite. Davenport and Bain originally described the microstructure as being similar in appearance to tempered martensite.

High-strength low-alloy steel type of alloy steel

High-strength low-alloy steel (HSLA) is a type of alloy steel that provides better mechanical properties or greater resistance to corrosion than carbon steel. HSLA steels vary from other steels in that they are not made to meet a specific chemical composition but rather specific mechanical properties. They have a carbon content between 0.05–0.25% to retain formability and weldability. Other alloying elements include up to 2.0% manganese and small quantities of copper, nickel, niobium, nitrogen, vanadium, chromium, molybdenum, titanium, calcium, rare earth elements, or zirconium. Copper, titanium, vanadium, and niobium are added for strengthening purposes. These elements are intended to alter the microstructure of carbon steels, which is usually a ferrite-pearlite aggregate, to produce a very fine dispersion of alloy carbides in an almost pure ferrite matrix. This eliminates the toughness-reducing effect of a pearlitic volume fraction yet maintains and increases the material's strength by refining the grain size, which in the case of ferrite increases yield strength by 50% for every halving of the mean grain diameter. Precipitation strengthening plays a minor role, too. Their yield strengths can be anywhere between 250–590 megapascals (36,000–86,000 psi). Because of their higher strength and toughness HSLA steels usually require 25 to 30% more power to form, as compared to carbon steels.

Carbon steel Steel in which the main interstitial alloying constituent is carbon

Carbon steel is a steel with carbon content from about 0.05% up to 2.1% by weight. The definition of carbon steel from the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) states:

Tempering (metallurgy) Process of heat treating used to increase toughness of iron-based alloys

Tempering is a process of heat treating, which is used to increase the toughness of iron-based alloys. Tempering is usually performed after hardening, to reduce some of the excess hardness, and is done by heating the metal to some temperature below the critical point for a certain period of time, then allowing it to cool in still air. The exact temperature determines the amount of hardness removed, and depends on both the specific composition of the alloy and on the desired properties in the finished product. For instance, very hard tools are often tempered at low temperatures, while springs are tempered at much higher temperatures.

Cryogenic hardening is a cryogenic treatment process where the material is cooled to approximately −185 °C (−301 °F), usually using liquid nitrogen. It can have a profound effect on the mechanical properties of certain steels, provided their composition and prior heat treatment are such that they retain some austenite at room temperature. It is designed to increase the amount of martensite in the steel's crystal structure, increasing its strength and hardness, sometimes at the cost of toughness. Presently this treatment is being practiced over tool steels, high-carbon, high-chromium steels and in some cases to cemented carbide to obtain excellent wear resistance. Recent research shows that there is precipitation of fine carbides in the matrix during this treatment which imparts very high wear resistance to the steels.

In metallurgy and materials science, annealing is a heat treatment that alters the physical and sometimes chemical properties of a material to increase its ductility and reduce its hardness, making it more workable. It involves heating a material above its recrystallization temperature, maintaining a suitable temperature for an appropriate amount of time and then cooling.

Alloy steel steel that is alloyed with a variety of elements

Alloy steel is steel that is alloyed with a variety of elements in total amounts between 1.0% and 50% by weight to improve its mechanical properties. Alloy steels are broken down into two groups: low alloy steels and high alloy steels. The difference between the two is disputed. Smith and Hashemi define the difference at 4.0%, while Degarmo, et al., define it at 8.0%. Most commonly, the phrase "alloy steel" refers to low-alloy steels.

Isothermal transformation diagram

Isothermal transformation diagrams are plots of temperature versus time. They are generated from percentage transformation-vs time measurements, and are useful for understanding the transformations of an alloy steel at elevated temperatures.

Dual-phase steel type of steel

Dual-phase steel (DP steel) is a high-strength steel that has a ferritic–martensitic microstructure. DP steels are produced from low or medium carbon steels that are quenched from a temperature above A1 but below A3 determined from continuous cooling transformation diagram. This results in a microstructure consisting of a soft ferrite matrix containing islands of martensite as the secondary phase (martensite increases the tensile strength). Therefore, the overall behaviour of DP steels is governed by the volume fraction, morphology (size, aspect ratio, interconnectivity, etc.), the grain size and the carbon content. For achieving these microstructures, DP steels typically contain 0.06–0.15 wt.% C and 1.5-3% Mn (the former strengthens the martensite, and the latter causes solid solution strengthening in ferrite, while both stabilize the austenite), Cr & Mo (to retard pearlite or bainite formation), Si (to promote ferrite transformation), V and Nb (for precipitation strengthening and microstructure refinement). The desire to produce high strength steels with formability greater than microalloyed steel led the development of DP steels in the 1970s.

Allotropes of iron Form different types of steel

At atmospheric pressure, three allotropic forms of iron exist: alpha iron (α-Fe), gamma iron (γ-Fe), and delta iron (δ-Fe). At very high pressure, a fourth form exists, called epsilon iron (ε-Fe). Some controversial experimental evidence suggests the existence of a fifth high-pressure form that is stable at very high pressures and temperatures.


Austempering is heat treatment that is applied to ferrous metals, most notably steel and ductile iron. In steel it produces a bainite microstructure whereas in cast irons it produces a structure of acicular ferrite and high carbon, stabilized austenite known as ausferrite. It is primarily used to improve mechanical properties or reduce / eliminate distortion. Austempering is defined by both the process and the resultant microstructure. Typical austempering process parameters applied to an unsuitable material will not result in the formation of bainite or ausferrite and thus the final product will not be called austempered. Both microstructures may also be produced via other methods. For example, they may be produced as-cast or air cooled with the proper alloy content. These materials are also not referred to as austempered.

TRIP steel are a class of high-strength steel alloys typically used in naval and marine applications and in the automotive industry. TRIP stands for "Transformation induced plasticity," which implies a phase transformation in the material, typically when a stress is applied. These alloys are known to possess an outstanding combination of strength and ductility.

Thermomechanical processing, is a metallurgical process that combines mechanical or plastic deformation process like compression or forging, rolling etc. with thermal processes like heat-treatment, water quenching, heating and cooling at various rates into a single process.

Symplectite material texture: a micrometre-scale or submicrometre-scale intergrowth of two or more crystals

A symplectite is a material texture: a micrometre-scale or submicrometre-scale intergrowth of two or more crystals. Symplectites form from the breakdown of unstable phases, and may be composed of minerals, ceramics, or metals. Fundamentally, their formation is the result of slow grain-boundary diffusion relative to interface propagation rate.

κ-Carbides are a special class of carbide structures. They are most known for appearing in steels containing manganese and aluminium where they have the molecular formula (Fe,Mn)3AlC.


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Further reading