Macroscopic phenomena, such as fracture, corrosion, and degradation of materials, are associated with various reactions which progress heterogeneously. Thus, material properties are generally determined not by their averaged characteristics but by specific features in heterogeneity (or ‘trigger sites’) of phases, chemical states, etc., where the key reactions that dictate macroscopic properties initiate and propagate. Therefore, the identification of trigger sites is crucial for controlling macroscopic properties. However, this is a challenging task. Previous studies have attempted to identify trigger sites based on the knowledge of materials science derived from experimental data (‘empirical approach’). However, this approach becomes impractical when little is known about the reaction or when large multi-dimensional datasets, such as those with multiscale heterogeneities in time and/or space, are considered. Here, we introduce a new persistent homology approach for identifying trigger sites and apply it to the heterogeneous reduction of iron ore sinters. Four types of trigger sites, ‘hourglass’-shaped calcium ferrites and ‘island’- shaped iron oxides, were determined to initiate crack formation using only mapping data depicting the heterogeneities of phases and cracks without prior mechanistic information. The identification of these trigger sites can provide a design rule for reducing mechanical degradation during reduction.
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