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Nature. 2012 Oct 25;490(7421):517-21. doi: 10.1038/nature11568.

Quasi-periodic events in crystal plasticity and the self-organized avalanche oscillator.

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Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut 06520-8286, USA.


When external stresses in a system--physical, social or virtual--are relieved through impulsive events, it is natural to focus on the attributes of these avalanches. However, during the quiescent periods between them, stresses may be relieved through competing processes, such as slowly flowing water between earthquakes or thermally activated dislocation flow between plastic bursts in crystals. Such smooth responses can in turn have marked effects on the avalanche properties. Here we report an experimental investigation of slowly compressed nickel microcrystals, covering three orders of magnitude in nominal strain rate, in which we observe unconventional quasi-periodic avalanche bursts and higher critical exponents as the strain rate is decreased. Our experiments are faithfully reproduced by analytic and computational dislocation avalanche modelling that we have extended to incorporate dislocation relaxation, revealing the emergence of the self-organized avalanche oscillator: a novel critical state exhibiting oscillatory approaches towards a depinning critical point. This theory suggests that whenever avalanches compete with slow relaxation--in settings ranging from crystal microplasticity to earthquakes--dynamical quasi-periodic scale invariance ought to emerge.

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