Simulating Precipitate Morphology using a Phase Field Model

By Susan P Gentry1, Stephen DeWitt2, Mingwei Zhang1

1. University of California, Davis 2. University of Michigan

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For this activity, students investigate how precipitate morphology is affected by materials parameters such as anisotropic interfacial energy and misfit strain. They vary the materials parameters in a series of simulations utilizing the nanoHUB tool PRISMS-PF: Equilibrium Shape for a Misfitting Precipitate. The basis of the homework assignment is to analyze the precipitate morphology of Mg7Y precipitates in a Mg-2.32 at% Y alloy, based on literature simulations [1]. Students compare the results of three simulations that they run with different interfacial energies and misfit strain. They then predict the shape for a fourth set of material parameters. Finally, students reflect on their learning and any questions that remain.

Target Audience: Upper division undergraduate or graduate students studying materials science and engineering

Assumed Prior Knowledge:

  • Interfacial energy
  • Misfit strain arising from different lattice parameters in two phases

Corresponding nanoHUB tool: PRISMS-PF: Equilibrium Shape for a Misfitting Precipitate. This tool uses a "black-box" approach, where users input material parameters, while the specifics of the simulation are set up inside the tool. This allows students to focus on the fundamental materials phenomena, without needing to understand the intricacies of the phase field model and finite element method. 

This learning resource includes:

  • Research question
  • Brief overview of the model
  • Summary of materials parameters for Mg-Y alloys, from Ref. [1]
  • Homework assignment, including simulations and reflection questions

Additional references are also included for those interested in learning more about the phase field method or the PRISMS-PF open source phase field code [2-4].

This resource contains multiple documents for download. To view a list of all documents click on the Supporting Docs tab.


[1] H. Liu et al, “A simulation study of the shape of β’ precipitates in Mg-Y and Mg-Gd alloys,” Acta Mater. 61 (2013) 453-466,

[2] S. DeWitt, K. Thornton, “Phase Field Modeling of Microstructural Evolution”, in: Computational Materials System Design, (2018). 

[3] M.R. Tonks, L.K. Aagesen, “The Phase Field Method: Mesoscale Simulation Aiding Material Discovery”, Annu. Rev. Mater. Res., 49 (2019) 79–102,

[4] “PRISMS-PF: An Open-Source Phase-Field Modeling Framework”,

Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  • Susan P Gentry, Stephen DeWitt, Mingwei Zhang (2019), "Simulating Precipitate Morphology using a Phase Field Model,"

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