Pressure-driven shock waves in solid materials can cause extreme damage and deformation. Understanding this deformation and the associated defects that are created in the material is crucial in the study of a wide range of phenomena, including planetary formation and asteroid impact sites1,2,3, the formation of interstellar dust clouds4, ballistic penetrators5, spacecraft shielding6 and ductility in high-performance ceramics7. At the lattice level, the basic mechanisms of plastic deformation are twinning (whereby crystallites with a mirror-image lattice form) and slip (whereby lattice dislocations are generated and move), but determining which of these mechanisms is active during deformation is challenging. Experiments that characterized lattice defects8,9,10,11 have typically examined the microstructure of samples after deformation, and so are complicated by post-shock annealing12 and reverberations. In addition, measurements have been limited to relatively modest pressures (less than 100 gigapascals). In situ X-ray diffraction experiments can provide insights into the dynamic behaviour of materials13, but have only recently been applied to plasticity during shock compression14,15,16,17 and have yet to provide detailed insight into competing deformation mechanisms. Here we present X-ray diffraction experiments with femtosecond resolution that capture in situ, lattice-level information on the microstructural processes that drive shock-wave-driven deformation. To demonstrate this method we shock-compress the body-centred-cubic material tantalum—an important material for high-energy-density physics owing to its high shock impedance and high X-ray opacity. Tantalum is also a material for which previous shock compression simulations18,19,20 and experiments8,9,10,11,12 have provided conflicting information about the dominant deformation mechanism. Our experiments reveal twinning and related lattice rotation occurring on the timescale of tens of picoseconds. In addition, despite the common association between twinning and strong shocks21, we find a transition from twinning to dislocation-slip-dominated plasticity at high pressure (more than 150 gigapascals), a regime that recovery experiments cannot accurately access. The techniques demonstrated here will be useful for studying shock waves and other high-strain-rate phenomena, as well as a broad range of processes induced by plasticity.
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We thank P. Mirkarimi and C. Davis for preparing the targets. This work was performed under the auspices of the US Department of Energy by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory under contract number DE-AC52-07NA27344, and Los Alamos National Laboratory under contract number DE-AC52-06NA25396. Use of the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS), SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, is supported by the US Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Basic Energy Sciences under contract number DE-AC02-76SF00515. The MEC instrument is supported by the US Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Fusion Energy Sciences under contract number SF00515. This material is based on work supported by the US Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Fusion Energy Sciences, under award number DE-SCW-1507. J.S.W. is grateful to the UK EPSRC for support under grant EP/J017256/1. D.M. and M. Sliwa were supported by LLNS under contract numbers B595954 and B609694, respectively.
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