The competition between the characteristic medium-range order corresponding to amorphous alloys and that in ordered crystalline phases is central to phase selection and morphology evolution under various processing conditions. We examine the stability of a model glass system, Cu–Zr, by comparing the energetics of various medium-range structural motifs over a wide range of compositions using first-principles calculations. We focus specifically on motifs that represent possible building blocks for competing glassy and crystalline phases, and we employ a genetic algorithm to efficiently identify the energetically favored decorations of each motif for specific compositions. Our results show that a Bergman-type motif with crystallization-resisting icosahedral symmetry is energetically most favorable in the composition range 0.63 < xCu < 0.68, and is the underlying motif for one of the three optimal glass-forming ranges observed experimentally for this binary system (Li et al., 2008). This work establishes an energy-based methodology to evaluate specific medium-range structural motifs which compete with stable crystalline nuclei in deeply undercooled liquids.
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