Their experiments on 22 gold wires of less than 20 nanometers involved the delicate operation of clamping them to a transmission electron microscope/atomic force microscope sample holder and then pulling them at constant loading speeds. Twins appeared under the shear component of the stress, which forced atoms to shift at the location of surface defects and led to a kind of nanoscale tectonic fault across the wire.
"Once you have those kinds of damage-initiation sites formed in the nanowire, you will have a lot less ductility. The metal will fracture prematurely," Lou said. "We didn't expect such twin-boundary formations would have such profound effects."
With current technology, it's nearly impossible to align the grip points on either side of the wire, so shear force on the nanowires was inevitable. "But this kind of loading mode will inevitably be encountered in the real world," he said. "We cannot imagine all the nanowires in an application will be stressed in a perfectly uniaxial way."
Lou said the results are important to manufacturers thinking of using gold as a nanomechanical element. "Realistically, you could have some off-axis angle of stress, and if these twins form, you would have less ductility than you would expect. Then the design criteria would have to change.
"That's basically the central message of this paper: Don't be fooled by the traditional definition of 'ductile,'" he said. "At the nanoscale, things can happen differently."
|Contact: David Ruth|