The viscoplastic deformation (creep) of crystalline materials under constant stress involves the motion of a large number of interacting dislocations1. Analytical methods and sophisticated ‘dislocation dynamics’ simulations have proved very effective in the study of dislocation patterning, and have led to macroscopic constitutive laws of plastic deformation2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9. Yet, a statistical analysis of the dynamics of an assembly of interacting dislocations has not hitherto been performed. Here we report acoustic emission measurements on stressed ice single crystals, the results of which indicate that dislocations move in a scale-free intermittent fashion. This result is confirmed by numerical simulations of a model of interacting dislocations that successfully reproduces the main features of the experiment. We find that dislocations generate a slowly evolving configuration landscape which coexists with rapid collective rearrangements. These rearrangements involve a comparatively small fraction of the dislocations and lead to an intermittent behaviour of the net plastic response. This basic dynamical picture appears to be a generic feature in the deformation of many other materials10,11,12. Moreover, it should provide a framework for discussing fundamental aspects of plasticity that goes beyond standard mean-field approaches that see plastic deformation as a smooth laminar flow.
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We thank R. Pastor-Satorras, M. Rubí, A. Scala and M. Zaiser for useful discussions, and O. Brisaud, and F. Dominé for help in the preparation of single crystals. We acknowledge partial support from the European Network contract on “Fractal Structures and Self-organization”. J.W. is supported by the “Action thématique innovante” of Institut National des Sciences de l'Univers-CNRS. Acoustic emission monitoring devices were financed by Université Joseph Fourier.
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Miguel, MC., Vespignani, A., Zapperi, S. et al. Intermittent dislocation flow in viscoplastic deformation. Nature 410, 667–671 (2001). https://doi.org/10.1038/35070524
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