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Atomic-scale phase separation induced clustering of solute atoms.


Dealloying typically occurs via the chemical dissolution of an alloy component through a corrosion process. In contrast, here we report an atomic-scale nonchemical dealloying process that results in the clustering of solute atoms. We show that the disparity in the adatom-substrate exchange barriers separate Cu adatoms from a Cu-Au mixture, leaving behind a fluid phase enriched with Au adatoms that subsequently aggregate into supported clusters. Using dynamic, atomic-scale electron microscopy observations and theoretical modeling, we delineate the atomic-scale mechanisms associated with the nucleation, rotation and amorphization-crystallization oscillations of the Au clusters. We expect broader applicability of the results because the phase separation process is dictated by the inherent asymmetric adatom-substrate exchange barriers for separating dissimilar atoms in multicomponent materials.

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