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Kinks and curves at the nanoscale

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Posted May 20, 2013
Frederic Sansoz, a professor of engineering at the University of Vermont, works at the intersection of nanotechnology and materials science. His work makes extensive use of state-of-the-art atomistic simulation techniques, as well as of atomic force microscopy-based experiments for the discovery of new properties -- like a newly discovered set of defects in coherent twin boundaries. Credit: Joshua Brown, University of Vermont, 2013

Frederic Sansoz, a professor of engineering at the University of Vermont, works at the intersection of nanotechnology and materials science. His work makes extensive use of state-of-the-art atomistic simulation techniques, as well as of atomic force microscopy-based experiments for the discovery of new properties — like a newly discovered set of defects in coherent twin boundaries. Credit: Joshua Brown, University of Vermont, 2013

One of the basic principles of nanotechnology is that when you make things extremely small—one nanometer is about five atoms wide, 100,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair—they are going to become more perfect.

 

“Perfect in the sense that their arrangement of atoms in the real world will become more like an idealized model,” says University of Vermont engineer Frederic Sansoz, “with smaller crystals—in for example, gold or copper—it’s easier to have fewer defects in them.”

And eliminating the defects at the interface separating two crystals, or grains, has been shown by nanotechnology experts to be a powerful strategy for making materials stronger, more easily molded, and less electrically resistant—or a host of other qualities sought by designers and manufacturers.

Since 2004, when a seminal paper came out in Science, materials scientists have been excited about one special of arrangement of atoms in metals and other materials called a “coherent twin boundary” or CTB.

Based on theory and experiment, these coherent twin boundaries are often described as “perfect,” appearing like a perfectly flat, one-atom-thick plane in computer models and electron microscope images.

Over the last decade, a body of literature has shown these coherent twin boundaries—found at the nanoscale within the crystalline structure of common metals like gold, silver and copper—are highly effective at making materials much stronger while maintaining their ability to undergo permanent change in shape without breaking and still allowing easy transmission of electrons—an important fact for computer manufacturing and other electronics applications.

But new research now shows that coherent twin boundaries are not so perfect after all.

A team of scientists, including Sansoz, a professor in UVM’s College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences, and colleagues from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and elsewhere, write in the May 19 edition of Nature Materials that coherent twin boundaries found in copper “are inherently defective.”

Read more at: Phys.org

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