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Research Article  |  Open Access  |  16 Feb 2023

Data-driven prediction of the glass-forming ability of modeled alloys by supervised machine learning

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J Mater Inf 2023;3:1.
10.20517/jmi.2022.28 |  © The Author(s) 2023.
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Abstract

The ability of a matter to fall into a glassy state upon cooling differs greatly among metallic alloys. It is conventionally measured by the critical cooling rate Rc, below which crystallization inevitably happens. There are a lot of factors involved in determining Rc for an alloy, including both elemental features and alloy properties. However, the underlying physical mechanism is still far from being well understood. Therefore, the design of new metallic glasses is mainly by time- and labor-consuming trial-and-error experiments. This considerably slows down the development process of metallic glasses. Nowadays, large-scale computer simulations have been playing a significant role in understanding glass formation. Although the atomic-scale features can be well captured, the simulations themselves are constrained to a limited timescale. To overcome these issues, we propose to explore the glass-forming ability of the modeled alloys from computer simulations by supervised machine learning. We aim to gain insights into the key features determining Rc and found that the non-linear couplings of the geometrical and energetic factors are of great importance. An optimized machine learning model is then established to predict new glass formers with a timescale beyond the current simulation capability. This study will shed new light on both unveiling the glass formation mechanism and guiding new alloy design in practice.

Keywords

Metallic glasses, molecular dynamics simulations, glass-forming ability, machine learning, data mining

1. INTRODUCTION

Ever since the first discovery of an amorphous metal [1], also named metallic glass (MG) later, from Au-Si system, developing new MGs with exceptional glass-forming ability (GFA), i.e., low critical cooling rate $$ R_c $$ , has been one of the main goals in the field [2-5]. In turn, these new materials ensure the exploration of the physics, chemistry, and mechanics of glasses in experiments [6-8]. In the past several decades, thousands of new MGs with various GFAs have been synthesized successfully in labs all around the world. In addition, an increasing amount of fascinating knowledge has been acquired. This greatly enriches the glass family.

Starting from the periodic table, the principal elements for MGs are transition metals, sometimes with metalloids as minor additions. Empirically, more components usually make a better glass former. There are usually four to five elements in bulk MGs. This makes the glass formation problem rather complex to understand. First of all, the parameter space is huge with enormous elemental features and alloy properties [9]. These include but are not limited to composition, atom size ratio, cohesive energy, pairwise and many-body interactions, and their couplings. It is even impossible to sample the full space for a binary system by traditional methods. Secondly, with multiple components, there are many (metastable) phases involved during nucleation and growth of the equilibrium crystalline product [10]. These metastable phases can have very complex crystal structures and are hard to be captured by experimental observations. Thirdly, supercooled metallic liquids overall show a disordered state, but there are abundant types of local structures formed [11]. They are favored by either energy or entropy. Understanding the roles of these locally favored structures in glass transition and crystallization of supercooled melts has been becoming a hot topic [12]. Due to these complexities, we are still far from well understanding the crucial factors that govern MG formation.

In recent years, it is quite encouraging that advanced high throughput sputtering experimental technique has shown its capability of synthesizing a library of $$ \sim 1, 000 $$ compositions at the same time [4,5]. By sputtering from multiple targets, a thin film of a system with continuous gradient composition is generated. These libraries are likely a good starting point for mining the GFA data by big data methods. However, because of the large species and compositional space, the experimental datasets can be rather sparse. The intercorrelation between different libraries is obscure to understand the data. This will make either building the physical model or predicting new materials challenging. The sophisticated design of the datasets (hence the experiments) is important for material prediction.

To create a large dataset of GFA with continuous controlled parameters change, we have carried out very large-scale molecular dynamics simulations to study the glass formation and crystallization process of binary alloys in recent years [13-17]. On the one hand, by carefully analyzing the crystallization kinetics of supercooled metallic liquids, the thermodynamic factor, interfacial energy, has been identified as the key to controlling the crystallization rate and thus the GFA [15]. At the microscopic scale, the competing ordering effect is crucial to determine the interfacial energy. In principle, the stronger the crystal-like preorder is frustrated by some locally favored structures with incompatible symmetries (such as icosahedra), the higher the interfacial energy will be [15,17]. Hence, the better GFA can be expected. The topological and especially the chemical properties of these local structures are very crucial in determining the interfacial energy. Furthermore, by tuning the local structures so as to decrease the wettability of the preorder at the liquid-crystal interface, the crystallization speed can be manipulated over several orders of magnitude [17]. It is more interesting to find that the preorder is very crucial not only in crystal nucleation but also in the crystal growth process. Accordingly, a critical modification has been proposed to the classical nucleation theory. On the other hand, by characterizing the $$ R_c $$ (i.e., GFA) of binary alloys in a large parameter space, we have studied how different elemental features and alloy properties affect $$ R_c $$ [13,14,16]. These include the atomic size mismatch, cohesive energy, mixing energy, and "atomic symmetry". It is surprisingly found that local chemical ordering plays a deterministic role in $$ R_c $$ . In most of the previous studies, such as Cheng et al.[18] and Laws et al.[19], the metallic glasses are usually treated as hard-sphere-like systems where dense packing is critical. The local atomic packings, especially local icosahedral order, have been considered as the most important factors in glass formation. However, in recent years, we performed systematical studies on the glass formation from model alloys[13-17] and found that the local chemical ordering can be more important in glass formation than previously thought. It can outperform local icosahedral orderings even when the size mismatch is considerable. Because of the multi-component nature, the atomic interactions are more complex, and the local chemical ordering can be more significant. The aging or cooling behavior is important in determining local chemical ordering by controlling atomic diffusion. Generally, the atomic rearrangements during structural relaxation towards the local equilibrium control local chemical ordering. Macroscopically, it will depend on the energetic parameters, atomic sizes, and composition. In addition, the competition among crystalline symmetry is much weaker than that between crystalline symmetry and crystal-incompatible symmetry. This explains why icosahedral clusters are usually found in metallic glass formers. These studies refresh the current understanding of the physical mechanisms of crystallization and glass formation and provide guidelines for experimental glass design. Nevertheless, we have never mined the data itself and built reliable models to predict new glasses. That falls into the efforts of the current work.

In this paper, we are going to utilize the supervised machine learning method to dig into the simulation dataset and try to build an optimized model to predict new binary glasses. Since the particle size ratio is helpful in grouping our dataset, we use the "out-of-group" strategy to make predictions. That is, we leave out a subgroup of samples with a specific particle size ratio and make predictions for them. Since these data are completely independent of the others and have not been seen by the training model, we can treat them as "new". More importantly, we aim to unveil the key features (factors) that determine the GFA of binary alloys. We find that non-linear coupling of the elemental features and alloy properties is critical in glass formation. In more detail, the GFA does not depend on the basic elemental features individually and additively; instead, it depends on the various non-linear couplings of them. The interactions of these basic elemental features to different polynomial degrees are more important in making good predictions. These interaction terms have never been identified previously and can serve as guidelines for future model development and experimental glass design. Therefore, the results will provide new insights into unravelling the physical mechanism of glass formation and help accelerate future material design.

2. METHODS

2.1. Molecular dynamics simulations

To generate a clean GFA dataset, we started from the simple binary models with Lennard-Jones potential:

$$ \begin{equation} V_{\alpha \beta} (r_{ij}) = 4 \epsilon_{\alpha \beta} \left[ \left( \frac{\sigma_{\alpha \beta}}{r_{ij}}\right)^{12} - \left( \frac{\sigma_{\alpha \beta}}{r_{ij}} \right)^{6} \right], \end{equation} $$

where $$ \alpha, \beta $$ indicate which of the particles (A or B) are interacting and $$ r_{ij} $$ is the separation between particles $$ i $$ and $$ j $$ . All the simulations were performed with periodic boundary conditions in all directions. The cubic simulation box contains $$ N=2000 $$ particles of equal mass $$ m $$ . We studied both monodisperse system ($$ \sigma_{AA}=\sigma_{BB}=\sigma_{AB} $$ ) and additive bidisperse system ($$ \sigma_{AB} = (\sigma_{AA} + \sigma_{BB})/2 $$ ). Instead, we tuned the inter-particle interaction strengths ($$ \epsilon_{AA} $$ , $$ \epsilon_{BB} $$ and $$ \epsilon_{AB} $$ ) widely. We keep $$ \epsilon_{BB} \leq \epsilon_{AA}=1.0 $$ to differentiate the species. The sampling library is exemplified in Figure 1 as a two-dimensional function of $$ (\epsilon_{BB} - \epsilon_{AA}) / (\epsilon_{BB} + \epsilon_{AA}) $$ and $$ 2\epsilon_{AB} / (\epsilon_{BB} + \epsilon_{AA}) $$ . These two variables take both the same species and inter-species interactions into consideration. We then simulated the systems with size mismatch within 5% so that they can mostly crystallize in the computational time scale. We also sample different compositions $$ f_B $$ (the fraction of B particles in the total number) from 0.1 to 0.9 in an interval of 0.1. Because of the broad energetic preferences, we employed $$ NPT $$ (constant number, constant pressure, constant temperature) ensemble with $$ P=10 $$ to avoid cavitation in any system. To map the experiments, we quenched the high-temperature liquid to very low temperatures at a series of cooling rates $$ R $$ . In this way, the critical cooling rate can be quantified after characterizing the crystal fraction at each $$ R $$ . 10 independent simulations are generally performed for better statistics. Note that crystallizing a good glass former can take a very long time and even out the capability of the computational power. The basic units for energy, length, and mass are $$ \epsilon_{\rm AA} $$ , $$ \sigma_{\rm AA} $$ , and $$ m $$ , respectively. The pressure, temperature, and time scale are reported in reduced units of $$ \epsilon_{AA}/\sigma_{AA}^3 $$ , $$ \epsilon_{AA}/k_B $$ , and $$ \sqrt{m \sigma_{AA}^2 / \epsilon_{AA}} $$ , where $$ k_{\rm B} $$ is the Boltzmann constant. The derived units for $$ R_{\rm c} $$ , $$ \rho $$ , and $$ \Delta H_{\rm imix} $$ are $$ \sqrt{\epsilon_{\rm AA}^3 / m \sigma_{AA}^2 k_{\rm B}^2} $$ , $$ m/\sigma_{\rm AA}^3 $$ , and $$ \epsilon_{\rm AA}/k_{\rm B} $$ , respectively. More details about the technical details are available in our previous works [13,14,16].

Data-driven prediction of the glass-forming ability of modeled alloys by supervised machine learning

Figure 1. Sampling library of the energetic parameters for the pairwise Lennard-Jones binary systems.

In addition to the above grid search of binary systems, we also performed extensive simulations to simulate many binary systems inspired by experiments [9]. The detailed information of these binary systems is provided in Table 1. Based on the experimental values of the elemental features, including particle size, cohesive energy and mass, we map them to the reduced units and ran the simulations. During the mapping, we also keep $$ \epsilon_{AA} \geq \epsilon_{BB} $$ . To capture the inter-species interactions, we follow the classical London's rule that $$ \epsilon_{AB} = \sqrt{\epsilon_{AA}\epsilon_{BB}} $$ and set $$ \sigma_{AB} = (\sigma_{AA} + \sigma_{BB})/2 $$ [13]. In this way, we can include more realistic models and explore a larger parameter space. To better display the data, we plot the data in Figure 2 in two dimensions with respect to $$ (\epsilon_{BB} - \epsilon_{AA}) / (\epsilon_{BB} + \epsilon_{AA}) $$ and $$ \sigma_{BB}/\sigma_{AA} $$ . Obviously, the parameter ranges are quite broad for binary MGs and those with different GFA can overlap in the two-dimensional space. This indicates that the GFA problem is not single-parameter deterministic. The energetic parameters and geometrical one may couple in a higher order. We should emphasize that this set of simulations is not aiming to compare directly to experiments to model each specific system. Instead, we hope to explore a larger space with some sort of connection to experiments. Furthermore, an alloy with an element having both larger cohesive energy and particle size than the other has a higher probability of becoming glass. From Table 1, there are 40 samples out of the total (62) that fall into this group. If we include the mass comparison, this number decreases to 31 out of 62. This demonstrates the neutral effect of particle masses. Meanwhile, there is also a higher chance for glass formation when both elements are metals (39/62). These insights are helpful for future experimental glass design, but are still subject to the small number of binary MGs being developed.

Table 1

Properties of binary systems explored by experiments

AB$$ \epsilon_A $$ (eV/atom)$$ r_A\ \rm (Å) $$ $$ m_A $$ (amu, g/mol)$$ \epsilon_{BB}/\epsilon_{AA} $$ $$ r_B/r_A $$ $$ m_B/m_A $$ Glass typeCondition1Condition2Condition3
Condition1: $$ \epsilon_{AA} \geq \epsilon_{BB}$$ and $$ \sigma_{AA} \geq \sigma_{BB}$$ ; Condition2: $$ \epsilon_{AA} \geq \epsilon_{BB}$$ and $$ \sigma_{AA} \geq \sigma_{BB}$$ and $$m_A \geq m_B$$ ; Condition3: both elements A and B are metals
AgCa2.951.44107.870.62371.36810.372ribbon001
SiAg4.631.128.0850.63711.30913.841ribbon000
AlCa3.391.426.9820.54281.40711.485bulk001
CuAl3.491.2663.5460.97131.11110.425ribbon001
ZrAl6.251.5891.2240.54240.88610.296film111
GeAu3.851.1472.630.98961.25442.712ribbon000
HfAu6.441.58178.490.59160.90511.104ribbon101
SiAu4.631.128.0850.82291.37.013ribbon000
AuSn3.811.43196.970.82411.08390.603ribbon001
ZrAu6.251.5891.2240.60960.90512.159ribbon101
BCo5.810.8810.810.75561.42055.452ribbon000
BFe5.810.8810.810.73671.42055.166ribbon000
BNi5.810.8810.810.76421.43185.430ribbon000
TiBe4.851.4247.8670.68450.81690.188ribbon111
ZrBe6.251.5891.2240.53120.73420.099ribbon111
CaMg1.841.9740.0780.82070.81220.606ribbon111
CaZn1.841.9740.0780.73370.70561.631ribbon101
HfCo6.441.58178.490.68170.79110.330ribbon111
CoP4.391.2558.9330.78130.8480.526ribbon110
TiCo4.851.4247.8670.90520.88031.231bulk101
ZrCo6.251.5891.2240.70240.79110.646ribbon111
HfCu6.441.58178.490.54190.79750.356bulk111
CuMg3.491.2663.5460.43271.26980.382ribbon001
TiCu4.851.4247.8670.71960.88731.328ribbon101
YCu4.371.888.9060.79860.70.715ribbon111
ZrCu6.251.5891.2240.55840.79750.697bulk111
HfFe6.441.58178.490.66460.79110.313film111
FeP4.281.2555.8450.80140.8480.555ribbon110
SiFe4.631.128.0850.92441.13641.988film000
FeSn4.281.2555.8450.73361.242.126film001
ZrFe6.251.5891.2240.68480.79110.612ribbon111
HfGe6.441.58178.490.59780.72150.407ribbon110
PdGe3.891.4106.420.98970.81430.682ribbon110
PtGe5.841.39195.080.65920.82010.372ribbon110
ZrGe6.251.5891.2240.6160.72150.796ribbon110
HfNi6.441.58178.490.68940.79750.329ribbon111
HfSi6.441.58178.490.71890.69620.157ribbon110
NiMg4.441.2658.6930.34011.26980.414ribbon001
YMg4.371.888.9060.34550.88890.273ribbon111
MgZn1.511.624.3050.8940.86872.690ribbon101
ZrMg6.251.5891.2240.24161.01270.266ribbon001
SiMn4.631.128.0850.63071.21.956ribbon000
ZrMn6.251.5891.2240.46720.83540.602film111
MoZr6.821.3995.950.91641.13670.951ribbon001
NbNi7.571.592.9060.58650.840.632bulk111
NbSi7.571.592.9060.61160.73330.302ribbon110
NiP4.441.2658.6930.77250.84130.528ribbon110
NiPd4.441.2658.6930.87611.11111.813film001
TiNi4.851.4247.8670.91550.88731.226film101
TaNi8.11.54180.950.54810.81820.324ribbon111
NiY4.441.2658.6930.98421.42861.515film001
ZrNi6.251.5891.2240.71040.79750.643ribbon111
PdP3.891.4106.420.88170.75710.291film110
PtP5.841.39195.080.58730.76260.159ribbon110
SiPd4.631.128.0850.84021.27273.789bulk000
ZrPd6.251.5891.2240.62240.88611.167ribbon101
PtSb5.841.39195.080.47091.11510.624ribbon001
PtSi5.841.39195.080.79280.79140.144ribbon110
PtTi5.841.39195.080.83051.02160.245ribbon001
ZrPt6.251.5891.2240.93440.87972.138ribbon101
TiSi4.851.4247.8670.95460.77460.587ribbon110
ZrSi6.251.5891.2240.74080.69620.308ribbon110
Data-driven prediction of the glass-forming ability of modeled alloys by supervised machine learning

Figure 2. Data exploration of experimental binary alloys grouped by the glass type. The geometrical parameter and the energetic parameter are considered for comparison.

2.2. Measuring glass-forming ability

After obtaining the quenched solids from the computer simulations, we employed bond orientational order parameters to characterize the local structures [11,20]. Taking any particle in the simulation box, the nearest neighbors of each particle are obtained by radical Voronoi tessellation [21]. We calculate the bond orientational order parameter $$ q_{6m}(i) $$ for each particle $$ i $$ :

$$ \begin{equation} q_{6m}(i) = \sum\limits_{j=1}^{N_i} \frac{A_j}{A^i_{\rm tot}} Y_{6m}(\theta({\bf{r}}_{ij}), \phi({\bf{r}}_{ij})), \end{equation} $$

where $$ N_i $$ is the number of nearest Voronoi neighbors of particle $$ i $$ , $$ Y_{6m}(\theta({\bf r}_{ij}, \phi({\bf r}_{ij})) $$ is the spherical harmonic function of degree $$ 6 $$ and order $$ m $$ , and $$ \theta $$ and $$ \phi $$ are the polar and azimuthal angles. The contribution from the spherical harmonics of each neighbor $$ j $$ of particle $$ i $$ is weighted by the fraction $$ A_j/A^i_{\rm tot} $$ of the area of the Voronoi face separating the two particles to the total area of all faces $$ A^i_{\rm tot} $$ of the polyhedron surrounding particle $$ i $$ . We determine the number of crystal-like atoms by calculating the correlations in the bond orientational order parameter:

$$ \begin{equation} s_6(i, j) = \frac{\sum\limits_{m=-6}^6 q_{6m}(i) q_{6m}^\ast(j)}{\sqrt{\sum\limits_{m=-6}^6 {\vert q_{6m}(i) \vert}^2 \sum\limits_{m=-6}^6 {\vert q_{6m}(j) \vert}^2}}, \end{equation} $$

where $$ q_{6m}^\ast(j) $$ is the complex conjugate of $$ q_{6m}(j) $$ . If $$ s_6(i, j) > 0.7 $$ , we treat the bond as crystal-like [22]. If the total number of crystal-like bonds for a given particle is larger than $$ 10 $$ , the particle is considered to be in a crystalline environment. The sensitivity of the thresholds for $$ s_6(i, j) $$ and the number of crystal-like bonds have been studied previously [22,23]. For each set of size ratios and energetic parameters, we calculate the fraction of crystalline particles $$ f_{\rm xtal} $$ as a function of the cooling rate $$ R $$ . Then we use the following function to model the rate-dependent $$ f_{\rm xtal} $$ and estimate the critical cooling rate $$ R_c $$ when $$ f_{\rm xtal}=0.5 $$ .

$$ \begin{equation} f_{\rm xtal} = \frac{1}{2} \left( 1 - \tanh \left[ \log_{10} (R/R_c)^{-\kappa} \right] \right), \end{equation} $$

where $$ 0 < \kappa < 1 $$ is the stretching exponent [13,14,16].

3. RESULTS

We finish the above computer simulations by using several years' computational time by hundreds of CPU cores in parallel. By characterizing the local structures of each sample, we obtained a big dataset consisting of 7688 samples. Fortunately, there are only about $$ 25\% $$ samples that have not crystallized with our lowest cooling rate. The reason why they cannot crystallize is that the computational running time is still limited and they are better glass formers than the others. They are not ultra-stable glasses but will crystallize at an extended simulation timescale. Therefore, we shall create a controllable high-quality dataset.

To explore the GFA dataset, we first try to gain insights with some empirical rules. As is known to all, the heat of mixing $$ \Delta H_{mix} $$ has long been considered as a major parameter in glass formation. Negative heat of mixing becomes one of the central rules in glass formation criteria, including the famous Inoue's rules [24]. This is very important to make sure the multiple species will mix with each other. Otherwise, phase separation will happen, which will strongly deteriorate the GFA. In this sense, a critical question arises: is there any quantitative correlation between GFA and $$ \Delta H_{mix} $$ or negative $$ \Delta H_{mix} $$ is only a necessity for glass formation? To answer this question, we hence calculate the $$ \Delta H_{mix} $$ for all the samples and show its relationship to the critical cooling rate $$ R_c $$ in Figure 3. Interestingly, there is no quantitative correlation between them, even though a major of glass formers have negative heats of mixing. This finding has been corroborated by experimental data previously [13]. The ones with $$ \Delta H_{mix} > 0 $$ generally are poor glass formers ($$ R_c \approx 10^{-2.5} $$ ).

Data-driven prediction of the glass-forming ability of modeled alloys by supervised machine learning

Figure 3. The relationship between the critical cooling rate $$ R_c $$ and the heat of mixing $$ \Delta H_{mix} $$ . The samples with $$ R_c = 10^{-6} $$ do not crystallize in the longest computational timescale. They are shown here for convenience.

Another common factor for glass formation is the density $$ \rho $$ . It is expected that a higher-density solid should have denser packing so that the atomic rearrangements are more difficult, which will impede crystallization. This relationship was observed in typical Cu-Zr binary systems [25]. Here we also check this behavior in our Lennard-Jones systems. To compare the results over all the studied systems, we take the density of the glassy solid fabricated by $$ R=10^{-2} $$ . Figure 4 shows the scatter plot of $$ R_c $$ as a function of $$ \rho $$ . Obviously, no quantitative relationship exists between them for the studied systems.

Data-driven prediction of the glass-forming ability of modeled alloys by supervised machine learning

Figure 4. The relationship between the critical cooling rate $$ R_c $$ and the low temperature glass density $$ \rho $$ . The samples with $$ R_c = 10^{-6} $$ do not crystallize in the longest computational timescale. They are shown here for convenience.

These findings demonstrate that the GFA of an alloy is more complex than from some single parameters. We need to figure out the high-order correlations between the GFA and the elemental and alloy properties. Nowadays, there is no explicit function that can be used for this purpose. To better define the function and get the main factors, we should turn our attention to some advanced big data analysis techniques, for example, supervised machine learning. This methodology will enable us to explore such a kind of relationship without knowing the function in priori.

Machine learning has become an innovative tool to explore big datasets and make predictions based on the known features [26-28]. It has been applied in enormous numbers of fields, including materials science [29-33]. Meanwhile, many advanced theoretical models have been developed for different application cases. In this study, we are trying to explore the simulation GFA datasets and gain physical insights into glass formation. Usually, machine learning is likely a black box for users with high-dimensional inputs. The designed model with a specific algorithm will take care of the mathematical relationships from the input features to the labels. The nonlinearity involved is hard to explain in a physical manner. Here, we start with a simple model with a small number of features so as to capture all the details.

Considering our simple model systems, there are several independent variables. Namely, $$ \epsilon_{BB}/\epsilon_{AA} $$ , $$ \epsilon_{AB}/\epsilon_{AA} $$ , $$ \sigma_{BB}/\sigma_{AA} $$ , $$ f_B $$ . Thus, we are trying to build a minimal number of basic features for the machine learning model. Based on the previous understandings of the GFA, four fundamental features are thus considered: $$ \varepsilon_1 = (\epsilon_{BB} - \epsilon_{AA}) / (\epsilon_{BB} + \epsilon_{AA}) $$ and $$ \varepsilon_2= 2\epsilon_{AB} / (\epsilon_{BB} + \epsilon_{AA}) $$ , $$ \varsigma = (\sigma_{BB}-\sigma_{AA})/\sigma_{AB} $$ , and $$ f_B $$ . These features mainly consider how different the two components are. Under the well-mixed condition, the more different the two species are, the stronger frustration towards crystallization will be. Hence, the GFA will be elevated.

With the critical cooling rates (in log scale, $$ \log_{10} R_{\rm c} $$ ) as the label, our machine learning problem is intrinsically a regression problem. We constructed the machine learning methods by employing the open-source Scikit-learn package [34]. Before building the model, the input features need cleaning and preprocessing. As a first step, we recall that about 25% of the samples cannot be crystallized in the simulation timescale. Therefore, they are not good for the training, so they are removed from the dataset for the subsequent process. Then we standardize the features by removing the mean and scaling to unit variance. In this way, all the input data behaves like standard normal distribution. This data processing step is key to reducing the bias for many machine learning models, including the ones we will use below.

Since we already figure out from the above discussion that GFA is not a simple linear single parameter problem, we are trying to build higher-order correlations of these basic features. To this end, we build high-dimensional features from polynomial extrapolation. In detail, we generate polynomial and interaction features from the four basic features. The new feature matrix will thus consist of all polynomial combinations of the basic features with a degree less than or equal to the specified degree. In this way, we can capture not only the nonlinearity but also the feature interactions. The higher order is, the more input features will be. Meanwhile, the risk of overfitting will also increase. Starting from these polynomial features, we hope to train a linear model to map the features to the labels. We thus compare several linear models, including basic linear regression, and their derivatives with different regularizations. For example, Ridge regression includes the L2 regularization on the size of the coefficients, while Lasso regression imposes L1 regularization. By adding both L1 and L2-norm regularization, an ElasticNet model can be trained. To create a workflow, we build a pipeline from feature engineering, model construction and cross validation, covering different degrees of polynomials and linear algorithms. During the training, 10-fold cross validation is chosen for optimization. The root mean squared error (RMSE) between the real values and the predicted values is minimized. Figure 5A shows the comparison of the performance of different training models. For Lasso and ElasticNet, where feature selection is automatically involved by L1 regularization, the models always under-fit the training data and thus their RMSE is much higher. In addition, with an increasingly large number of features (from degree 1 to 7) fed to the training model, their performance is not much improved. These models are very aggressive in feature reduction and cannot pick up important high-degree features. This demonstrates their improbability in solving the current issue.

Data-driven prediction of the glass-forming ability of modeled alloys by supervised machine learning

Figure 5. Machine learning model optimizations. (A) Cross-validation scores for various learning models with polynomial degrees up to 7. (B) The learning curve of the Ridge model. The training score and cross-validation score are compared with different training sizes. Both of them tend to saturate and merge at large training sizes.

We then turn to the basic linear regression and Ridge regression models. They are behaving similarly, except that Ridge did a better job when the polynomial degree was 6. We first emphasize that the RMSE in Figure 5A is from the 10-fold cross-validations for the training model on the test sub-dataset. For machine learning models, with increasing model complexity, the bias will decrease while variance can greatly increase. There will be a variance-bias trade-off. With small polynomial degrees, the bias can be rather high, but the variance can be small. The model under-fits the training data and thus cannot capture the test data trends well. The performance can be improved by increasing the model complexity. The minimum at polynomial degree 6 indicates the best performance with a reasonable variance-bias trade-off. With a further increasing degree ($$ >6 $$ ), the bias can be small, but the variance can be rather high. The model will be too complex so as to over-fit the training data but cannot well generalize to the test data. That is why RMSE shows a V-shape. Further increasing to degree 8 will greatly increase RMSE, especially for the linear regression model. Given the size of the dataset and consideration of the degree of freedom, any degree that is higher than 8 is not practical. Thus, we believe a model with polynomials at degree 6 is the global optimum. Therefore, we would expect that the optimized model is Ridge regression with a six-degree polynomial. There are hence around 210 features derived from the four basic features. Specifically, this algorithm is to estimate the coefficient set $$ \{\beta_0, \beta_1, \beta_2, ..., \beta_p \} $$ that minimizes the loss function

$$ \begin{equation} \sum\limits_{i=1}^n (y_i - \beta_0 - \sum\limits_{j=1}^p \beta_j x_{ij})^2 + \lambda \sum\limits_{j=1}^p \beta_j^2, \end{equation} $$

where the dataset has $$ n $$ observations with $$ p $$ predictors (features), $$ x_{ij} $$ is the $$ j^{\rm th} $$ predictor of the $$ i^{\rm th} $$ feature, $$ y_i $$ is the corresponding label, and $$ \lambda $$ is the non-negative regularization strength. To account for the overfitting probability, we characterize the learning curve of the optimized model. Basically, a subset of the original data will be generated internally for training and the rest for testing. With 10-fold cross-validations, the model is trained with different training sizes, and its performance is plotted in Figure 5B. Remarkably, with increasing training size, the training score is only slightly worse, but the testing performance is dramatically improved. Both scores tend to saturate and merge at $$ \sim 3000 $$ training data. This excludes the overfitting risk in our machine-learning model.

Now we come to the most important step of machine learning, namely making predictions on unseen data. For our purpose, we leave out a subgroup of data with a specific $$ \sigma_{BB}/\sigma_{AA} $$ before training (e.g., out-of-group prediction). This aims to avoid interpolation in the machine learning model and make sure the independent testing data has never been known by the training model. In this way, we show the predicted $$ R_c $$ against the measured $$ R_c $$ in Figure 6. It is quite encouraging that the RMSE is only around 0.212 and a direct linear fitting gives $$ R^2 \approx 0.9 $$ . These demonstrate the reliability of our training model to predict new glass formers in the world of computer simulations. The larger fluctuation for better glass formers (lower $$ R_c $$ ) is because of the greater difficulty in measuring the accurate $$ R_c $$ . Some of these binary alloys can require a longer time to crystallize beyond the current computational power. The machine learning model will be helpful in predicting new materials with enhanced GFA for the study of glass physics. For instance, the Kob-Andersen model has been the most popular model for glass study in the past three decades [35]. It was assumed as a very good glass former. However, recent studies show that with a larger simulation box and GPU acceleration, the Kob-Andersen model is vulnerable to crystallization [36,37]. It is actually a poor glass former. The non-additivity and non-classical energy mixing make the model difficult to understand. A simpler yet better model is of great interest for glass studies.

Data-driven prediction of the glass-forming ability of modeled alloys by supervised machine learning

Figure 6. Comparison of the machine learning predicted $$ R_c $$ with the simulation measurements. A linear fit (red dashed line) is included for illustration.

We note that there are a variety of machine learning algorithms available and many of them have been applied in materials development [33,38,39], such as linear models with regularization, tree-based models, and neural networks. For instance, the iterative random forest model has been studied widely in classifying glass formation and regressing glass properties [33,39]. These complex models already showed prediction power, but suffered from a higher risk of over-fitting. In addition, the interpretability will drastically decrease with increasing model complexity. Therefore, in this study, we choose to start from the simple linear model with non-linear combinations of basic features instead of complex, non-linear fancy models, such as artificial neural networks. We hope to better extract the important couplings of these basic features in glass formation. Interestingly, we found that the couplings of $$ \varepsilon_1 $$ , $$ \varepsilon_2 $$ , $$ \varsigma $$ and $$ f_B $$ are rather crucial in determining the GFA. In Figure 7, we plot the most important features in the linear model. We split them into two graphs based on whether it is positively or negatively correlated with $$ R_c $$ . It is surprising to see that the energetic parameter ($$ \varepsilon_1 \varepsilon_2 f_B $$ ) is the most critical one, without the particle size information. This may provide a plausible explanation for why local chemical ordering is so important in glass formation [13,15,16]. This top feature is then followed by the couplings of the particle size and the energetics. These results clarified the critical features in glass formation, at least for binary systems. They may provide further insights for future experimental glass design. Note that having a binary alloy with exceptional GFA will be ideal for glass study and applications.

Data-driven prediction of the glass-forming ability of modeled alloys by supervised machine learning

Figure 7. Feature importance analysis of the optimized machine learning model. (A) Positive correlations. (B) Negative correlations.

We note that bridging the important model features in the current study to those determined in experiments is interesting and important. From the work by Liu et al.[40], it was surprisingly found that the 'random' feature generation from elemental features without enough physical insights is insufficient in machine learning. Overfitting is readily there by feeding those high-dimensional features to a non-linear random forest algorithm. Instead, a model with only three features sophisticatedly derived from both elemental and alloy features provides some predictability. Similarly, in the work by You et al.[41], an artificial neural network model can classify crystalline versus amorphous phases in high-throughput fabrications by using a small number of elemental and alloy features, especially from excess electrical resistivity. The significance of these alloy properties unambiguously demonstrates the non-trivial couplings of elemental properties in metallic alloys. These studies convey critical messages. On the one hand, physics-driven features from elemental and alloy properties are significant. On the other hand, how the coupling of elemental properties to determine the alloy property is crucial in feature engineering. The current study is in line with these spirits: we first identified the four fundamental physics-driven features. They consider the energetic interactions, atomic sizes, and compositions, which are consistent with the experimental inputs. Furthermore, we identified their critical couplings [Figure 7] that may correlate with some alloy properties. How to directly map these fundamental model parameters in Figure 7 to experimentally measurable quantities, such as electrical resistivity and liquidus temperature, is interesting for future study.

4. SUMMARY

The glass-forming ability has been one of the central mysteries for MGs, unlike other families of glass. The critical cooling rates of MGs can differ by more than 10 orders of magnitude. This huge time gap has fascinated glass researchers to explore the underlying physics and to design new materials with desired properties. To accelerate MG development, we need to understand the physical mechanisms of glass formation and learn from the existing big data accumulated so far. In this study, without relying on collecting experimental data from the literature sea, we performed large-scale computer simulations over several years to generate a high-quality dataset. Based on the current understanding of these data, we build an optimized physics-based machine learning model with only four basic features. The model is able to make reliable predictions on new substances and provides insights into the most critical features. It is found that the non-linear couplings of the energetic parameters and geometric parameters are key for glass formation. This further demonstrates the complexity of the long-standing GFA issue. More interestingly, the most important factor for glass formation is found to be the coupling of energetic parameters and composition. This rationalizes the crucial role of local chemical ordering in glass formation and crystallization of metallic alloys, which has been overlooked in the past. A deeper understanding of the physics of GFA is desired in the future. Practically, generating and maintaining a high-quality data warehouse for the GFA with extended variables are important for future study. This may require the collaboration of the whole field.

Although here we focus on binary alloys for simulation convenience, the current study can be effectively extended to multi-component materials based on the acquired knowledge. With more components, there will be more independent variables. For example, there will be 12 independent variables for a ternary system. Even though this will greatly increase the sampling difficulty in molecular dynamics simulations, some optimized high-throughput computational strategies may be developed. It would be interesting to see whether such a model persists or not. Extending the physical mechanism and model prediction of glass formation in single-component and binary systems to multi-component systems is an intrinsically important and intriguing direction for future work. Another interesting related topic would be machine learning study of the phase selection of high-entropy alloys. With mainly five elements of similar size, which is close to one set of our current simulations, high-entropy alloys usually form a finite number of simple crystals. This is an ideal case as a classification problem. The driver of the phase selection and local chemical ordering is the energetic competition. By using a similar simulation protocol or with an advanced patchy particle model, these issues can be well tackled by combining computer simulations and machine learning methods.

DECLARATIONS

Acknowledgments

Hu YC has been focusing on the computational study of the glass-forming ability of metallic glasses since he started his postdoc research with Prof. Corey O'Hern at Yale University in 2018. At Yale, he carried out most of the simulations to quantify the critical cooling rates of thousands of systems and studied the statistical physics of the glass-forming ability. Supported by a JSPS fellowship, Y.C.H. has also worked with Prof. Hajime Tanaka at the University of Tokyo to study the atomic-scale structural mechanism of glass formation and crystallization of binary alloys. Without these experiences and thoughts, this work would have never come to fruition. Y.C.H. is very grateful for all the support from all the members of the O'Hern lab and the Tanaka lab. Hu YC acknowledges the technical support from Yale Center for Research Computing. Hu YC thanks Y.C. Wu for carefully reviewing the manuscript before submission.

Authors' contributions

Proposed and supervised the project, conducted the simulations, built the machine learning model, performed the analysis, and wrote the manuscript: Hu YC

Contributed to generalizing the machine learning codes and performing analyses to respond to the referees: Tian J

Availability of data and materials

The dataset and the machine learning codes are available at the high-quality dataset and the machine learning package at https://github.com/yuanchaohu/ML_GFA_JMI or at https://github.com/jzt5132/ml_code.

Financial support and sponsorship

None.

Conflicts of interest

All authors declared that there are no conflicts of interest.

Ethical approval and consent to participate

Not applicable.

Consent for publication

Not applicable.

Copyright

© The Author(s) 2023.

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Hu YC, Tian J. Data-driven prediction of the glass-forming ability of modeled alloys by supervised machine learning. J Mater Inf 2023;3:1. http://dx.doi.org/10.20517/jmi.2022.28

AMA Style

Hu YC, Tian J. Data-driven prediction of the glass-forming ability of modeled alloys by supervised machine learning. Journal of Materials Informatics. 2023; 3(1): 1. http://dx.doi.org/10.20517/jmi.2022.28

Chicago/Turabian Style

Yuan-Chao Hu, Jiachuan Tian. 2023. "Data-driven prediction of the glass-forming ability of modeled alloys by supervised machine learning" Journal of Materials Informatics. 3, no.1: 1. http://dx.doi.org/10.20517/jmi.2022.28

ACS Style

Hu, Y.C.; Tian J. Data-driven prediction of the glass-forming ability of modeled alloys by supervised machine learning. J. Mater. Inf. 2023, 3, 1. http://dx.doi.org/10.20517/jmi.2022.28

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