Research Highlights

Nature 463, 712 (11 February 2010) | doi:10.1038/463712c; Published online 10 February 2010

Materials science: Small, strong and supple

Materials science: Small, strong and supple

D. JANG

Nature Mater. doi:10.1038/nmat2622 (2010)

Strong materials, such as ceramics, are often brittle and prone to snapping — but those that deform gracefully under tension, such as metals, are weaker.

Now, Dongchan Jang and Julia Greer from the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena have overcome this trade-off with zirconium-based metallic glasses — alloys that are formed of disordered metal atoms and that can be moulded when heated. They show that when the material is reduced in size to pillars measuring 100 nanometres in diameter (pictured above), it assumes both a metal-like ductility and a ceramic-like strength.

The authors suggest that internal flaws in the glass — which would shear the alloy apart in bulk form — find it much harder to propagate through the nanometre-scale structure.


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