Silicon crystals have an important role in the electronics industry, and silicon nanoparticles have applications in areas such as nanoelectromechanical systems, photonics and biotechnology1, 2. However, the elastic–plastic transition observed in silicon is not fully understood; in particular, it is not known if the plasticity of silicon is determined by dislocations or by transformations between phases. Here, based on compression experiments and molecular dynamics simulations, we show that the mechanical properties of bulk silicon3, 4, 5, 6 and silicon nanoparticles are significantly different. We find that bulk silicon exists in a state of relative constraint, with its plasticity dominated by phase transformations, whereas silicon nanoparticles are less constrained and display dislocation-driven plasticity. This transition, which we call deconfinement, can also explain the absence of phase transformations in deformed silicon nanowedges7, 8. Furthermore, the phenomenon is in agreement with effects observed in shape-memory alloy nanopillars9, and provides insight into the origin of incipient plasticity10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19.
At a glance
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