An intermetallic (also called an intermetallic compound, intermetallic alloy, ordered intermetallic alloy, and a long-range-ordered alloy) is a type of metallic alloy that forms a solid-state compound exhibiting defined stoichiometry and ordered crystal structure.

Although the term "intermetallic compounds", as it applies to solid phases, has been in use for many years, its introduction was regretted, for example by Hume-Rothery in 1955.[1]


Research definition

Schulze in 1967[2] defined intermetallic compounds as solid phases containing two or more metallic elements, with optionally one or more non-metallic elements, whose crystal structure differs from that of the other constituents. Under this definition, the following are included:

  1. Electron (or Hume-Rothery) compounds
  2. Size packing phases. e.g. Laves phases, Frank–Kasper phases and Nowotny phases
  3. Zintl phases

The definition of a metal is taken to include:

  1. post-transition metals, i.e. aluminium, gallium, indium, thallium, tin and lead
  2. metalloids, e.g. silicon, germanium, arsenic, antimony and tellurium.

Homogeneous and heterogeneous solid solutions of metals, and interstitial compounds (such as carbides and nitrides), are excluded under this definition. However, interstitial intermetallic compounds are included, as are alloys of intermetallic compounds with a metal.

Common use

In common use, the research definition, including post-transition metals and metalloids, is extended to include compounds such as cementite, Fe3C. These compounds, sometimes termed interstitial compounds, can be stoichiometric, and share similar properties to the intermetallic compounds defined above.


The term intermetallic is used[3] to describe compounds involving two or more metals such as the cyclopentadienyl complex Cp6Ni2Zn4.


A B2 intermetallic compound has equal numbers of atoms of two metals such as aluminium and iron.[4]

Properties and applications

Inter-metallic compounds are generally brittle and have high melting points. They often offer a compromise between ceramic and metallic properties when hardness and/or resistance to high temperatures is important enough to sacrifice some toughness and ease of processing. They can also display desirable magnetic, superconducting and chemical properties, due to their strong internal order and mixed (metallic and covalent/ionic) bonding, respectively. Inter-metallic have given rise to various novel materials developments. Some examples include alnico and the hydrogen storage materials in nickel metal hydride batteries. Ni3Al, which is the hardening phase in the familiar nickel-base super alloys, and the various titanium aluminides have also attracted interest for turbine blade applications, while the latter is also used in very small quantities for grain refinement of titanium alloys. Silicides, inter-metallic involving silicon, are utilized as barrier and contact layers in microelectronics.[5]


  1. Magnetic materials e.g. alnico, sendust, Permendur, FeCo, Terfenol-D
  2. Superconductors e.g. A15 phases, niobium-tin
  3. Hydrogen storage e.g. AB5 compounds (nickel metal hydride batteries)
  4. Shape memory alloys e.g. Cu-Al-Ni (alloys of Cu3Al and nickel), Nitinol (NiTi)
  5. Coating materials e.g. NiAl
  6. High-temperature structural materials e.g. nickel aluminide, Ni3Al
  7. Dental amalgams, which are alloys of intermetallics Ag3Sn and Cu3Sn
  8. Gate contact/ barrier layer for microelectronics e.g. TiSi2[6]
  9. Laves phases (AB2), e.g., MgCu2, MgZn2 and MgNi2.

The formation of intermetallics can cause problems. For example, intermetallics of gold and aluminium can be a significant cause of wire bond failures in semiconductor devices and other microelectronics devices.

Intermetallic particles

Intermetallic particles form during solidification of metallic alloys.


Examples of intermetallics through history include:

  1. Roman yellow brass, CuZn
  2. Chinese high tin bronze, Cu31Sn8
  3. Type metal, SbSn

German type metal is described as breaking like glass, not bending, softer than copper but more fusible than lead.[7] The chemical formula does not agree with the one above; however, the properties match with an intermetallic compound or an alloy of one.

See also


  • Gerhard Sauthoff: Intermetallics, Wiley-VCH, Weinheim 1995, 165 pages
  • Intermetallics, Gerhard Sauthoff, Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry, Wiley Interscience. (Subscription required)
  1. Electrons, atoms, metals and alloys W. Hume-Rothery Publisher: The Louis Cassier Co. Ltd 1955
  2. G. E. R. Schulze: Metallphysik, Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 1967
  3. Cotton, F. Albert; Wilkinson, Geoffrey; Murillo, Carlos A.; Bochmann, Manfred (1999), Advanced Inorganic Chemistry (6th ed.), New York: Wiley-Interscience, ISBN 0-471-19957-5
  4. "Wings of steel: An alloy of iron and aluminium is as good as titanium, at a tenth of the cost". The Economist. February 7, 2015. Retrieved February 5, 2015. E02715
  5. S.P. Murarka, Metallization Theory and Practice for VLSI and ULSI. Butterworth-Heinemann, Boston, 1993.
  6. Milton Ohring, Materials Science of Thin Films, 2nd Edition, Academic Press, San Diego, CA, 2002, p. 692.
  7. Type-pounding The Penny Cyclopædia of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge By Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (Great Britain), George Long Published 1843
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