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Sci Rep. 2013;3:2113. doi: 10.1038/srep02113.

Visualizing size-dependent deformation mechanism transition in Sn.

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Center for Advancing Materials Performance from the Nanoscale-CAMP-Nano & Hysitron Applied Research Center in China-HARCC, State Key Laboratory for Mechanical Behavior of Materials, Xi'an Jiaotong University, Xi'an 710049, P. R. China.


Displacive deformation via dislocation slip and deformation twinning usually plays a dominant role in the plasticity of crystalline solids at room temperature. Here we report in situ quantitative transmission electron microscope deformation tests of single crystal Sn samples. We found that when the sample size was reduced from 450 nm down to 130 nm, diffusional deformation replaces displacive plasticity as the dominant deformation mechanism at room temperature. At the same time, the strength-size relationship changed from "smaller is stronger" to "smaller is much weaker". The effective surface diffusivity calculated based on our experimental data matches well with that reported in literature for boundary diffusion. The observed change in the deformation mode arises from the sample size-dependent competition between the Hall-Petch-like strengthening of displacive processes and Coble diffusion softening processes. Our findings have important implications for the stability and reliability of nanoscale devices such as metallic nanogaps.

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