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Strong crystal size effect on deformation twinning


Deformation twinning1,2,3,4,5,6 in crystals is a highly coherent inelastic shearing process that controls the mechanical behaviour of many materials, but its origin and spatio-temporal features are shrouded in mystery. Using micro-compression and in situ nano-compression experiments, here we find that the stress required for deformation twinning increases drastically with decreasing sample size of a titanium alloy single crystal7,8, until the sample size is reduced to one micrometre, below which the deformation twinning is entirely replaced by less correlated, ordinary dislocation plasticity. Accompanying the transition in deformation mechanism, the maximum flow stress of the submicrometre-sized pillars was observed to saturate at a value close to titanium’s ideal strength9,10. We develop a ‘stimulated slip’ model to explain the strong size dependence of deformation twinning. The sample size in transition is relatively large and easily accessible in experiments, making our understanding of size dependence11,12,13,14,15,16,17 relevant for applications.

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Figure 1: Scanning electron microscopy images of the deformed micropillars and EBSD pole figure.
Figure 2: Mechanical data of the tested samples.
Figure 3: Electron microscopy images of the tested samples.
Figure 4: Schematic of the ‘stimulated slip’ model.


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We thank Q. Liu for help with EBSD experiments. This work was supported by grants from the NSFC (50671077, 50720145101, 50831004 and 50925104), the 973 Program of China (2004CB619303, 2007CB613804 and 2010CB613003) and the 111 Project of China (B06025). J.L. was supported by ONR grant N00014-05-1-0504, NSF grant CMMI-0728069, MRSEC grant DMR-0520020 and AFOSR grant FA9550-08-1-0325. X.H. was supported by the Danish National Research Foundation. The in situ TEM work was performed at the National Center for Electron Microscopy, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, which is supported by the US Department of Energy under contract DE-AC02-05CH11231.

Author Contributions Q.Y. and Z.-W.S. carried out the experiments, J.L. constructed the model, X.H. interpreted the EBSD results, L.X. supervised the sample selection, J.S. designed the project, J.L. and E.M. wrote the paper. All authors contributed to the discussions.

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Correspondence to Ju Li or Jun Sun.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

This file contains Supplementary Figure S1- S5 with Legends, Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Table S1, Supplementary Data and Supplementary References. (PDF 732 kb)

Supplementary Movie 1

This movie shows the in situ compression of the 250 nm Ti-5at% Al single crystal pillar in TEM. (MOV 7748 kb)

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Yu, Q., Shan, ZW., Li, J. et al. Strong crystal size effect on deformation twinning. Nature 463, 335–338 (2010).

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