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The mechanical properties of crystalline materials are limited by the presence and motion of defects caused by extra or missing atoms in the crystal lattice. Plastic deformation of a material causes these defects, known as dislocations, to move and multiply. Much is known about the motion of dislocations in three dimensions but less so in two. Warner et al. (p. 209; see the Perspective by Bonilla and Carpio) used graphene as a model material to track dislocation dynamics in real time. The strain fields in the graphene sheet were mapped, which suggests that the dislocation motion is connected to the stretching, rotating, and breaking of individual carbon bonds.
The movement of dislocations in a crystal is the key mechanism for plastic deformation in all materials. Studies of dislocations have focused on three-dimensional materials, and there is little experimental evidence regarding the dynamics of dislocations and their impact at the atomic level on the lattice structure of graphene. We studied the dynamics of dislocation pairs in graphene, recorded with single-atom sensitivity. We examined stepwise dislocation movement along the zig-zag lattice direction mediated either by a single bond rotation or through the loss of two carbon atoms. The strain fields were determined, showing how dislocations deform graphene by elongation and compression of C-C bonds, shear, and lattice rotations.