Nanotwinned copper: mechanical properties

August 28, 2011

Deformation mechanisms, length scales and optimizing the mechanical properties of nanotwinned metals

Wu et al

Refinement of microstructural length scales and modification of interface character offer opportunities for optimizing material properties. While strength and ductility are commonly inversely related, nanotwinned polycrystalline copper has been shown to possess simultaneous ultrahigh strength and ductility. Interestingly, a maximum strength is found at a small, finite twin spacing. We study the plastic deformation of nanotwinned polycrystalline copper through large-scale molecular dynamics simulations. The simulations show that plastic deformation is initiated by partial dislocation nucleation at grain boundary triple junctions. Both pure screw and 60° dislocations cutting across twin boundaries and dislocation-induced twin boundary migration are observed in the simulation. Following twin boundary cutting, 60° dislocations frequently cross-slip onto {0 0 1} planes in twin grains and form Lomer dislocations. We further examine the effect of twin spacing on this Lomer dislocation mechanism through a series of specifically designed nanotwinned copper samples over a wide range of twin spacings. The simulations show that a transition in the deformation mechanism occurs at a small, critical twin spacing. While at large twin spacings, cross-slip and dissociation of the Lomer dislocations create dislocation locks that restrict and block dislocation motion and thus enhance strength, at twin spacings below the critical size, cross-slip does not occur, steps on the twin boundaries form and deformation is much more planar. These twin steps can migrate and serve as dislocation nucleation sites, thus softening the material. Based on these mechanistic observations, a simple, analytical model for the critical twin spacing is proposed and the predicted critical twin spacing is shown to be in excellent agreement both with respect to the atomistic simulations and experimental observations. In addition, atomistic reaction pathway calculations show that the activation volume of this dislocation crossing twin boundary process is consistent with experimental values. This suggests that the dislocation mechanism transition reported here for the first time can be a source of the observed transition in nanotwinned copper strength.

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