Using a powerful electron microscope to view atomic-level details, Johns Hopkins researchers have discovered a "twinning" phenomenon in a nanocrystalline form of aluminum that was plastically deformed during lab experiments. The finding will help scientists better predict the mechanical behavior and reliability of new types of specially fabricated metals. The research results, an important advance in the understanding of metallic nanomaterials, were published in a recent issue of the journal Science.
At the microscopic level, most metals are made up of tiny crystallites, or grains. Through careful lab processing, however, scientists in recent years have begun to produced nanocrystalline forms of metals in which the individual grains are much smaller. These nanocrystalline forms are prized because they are much stronger and harder than their commercial-grade counterparts. Although they are costly to produce in large quantities, these nanomaterials can be used to make critical components for tiny machines called microelectromechanical systems, often referred to as MEMS, or even smaller nanoelectromechanical systems, NEMS.
But before they build devices with nanomaterials, engineers need a better idea of how the metals will behave. For example, under what conditions will they bend or break? To find out what happens to these new metals under stress at the atomic level, Johns Hopkins researchers, led by Mingwei Chen, conducted experiments on a thin film of nanocrystalline aluminum. Grains in this form of aluminum are 1,000th the size of the grains in commercial aluminum.
Phil Sneiderman | EurekAlert!
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