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Austenite is a metallic, non-magnetic solid solution of carbon and iron that exists in steel above the critical temperature of 1333F ( 723C). Its face-centred cubic (FCC) structure allows it to hold a high proportion of carbon in solution. As it cools, this structure either breaks down into a mixture of ferrite and cementite (usually in the structural forms pearlite or bainite), or undergoes a slight lattice distortion known as martensitic transformation. The rate of cooling determines the relative proportions of these materials and therefore the mechanical properties (e.g. hardness, tensile strength) of the steel. Quenching (to induce martensitic transformation), followed by tempering (to break down some martensite and retained austenite), is the most common heat treatment for high-performance steels. The addition of certain other metals, such as manganese and nickel, can stabilize the austenitic structure, facilitating heat-treatment of low-alloy steels. In the extreme case of austenitic stainless steel, much higher alloy content makes this structure stable even at room temperature. On the other hand, such elements as silicon, molybdenum, and chromium tend to de-stabilize austenite, raising the eutectoid temperature (the temperature where two phases, ferrite and cementite, become a single phase, austenite).

Austenite can contain far more carbon than ferrite, between 0.8% at 1333°F (723°C) and 2.08% at 2098°F (1148°C). Thus, above the critical temparture, all of the carbon contained in ferrite and cementite (for a steel of 0.8% C) is dissolved in the austenite.

Face Centered Cubic Unit Cell
Face Centered Cubic

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