Femtosecond Visualization of Lattice Dynamics in Shock-Compressed Matter

Science  11 Oct 2013:
Vol. 342, Issue 6155, pp. 220-223
DOI: 10.1126/science.1239566

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Elastic to Plastic

When a crystal is mechanically compressed, it first reacts elastically (reversibly), and then enters the plastic regime, in which the structure of the material is irreversibly changed. This process can be studied with molecular dynamics (MD) simulations on very fine temporal and spatial scales, but experimental analysis has lagged behind. Milathianaki et al. (p. 220) shocked polycrystalline copper with a laser beam, and then took successive snapshots of the crystal structure at 10-picosecond intervals. The results were compared directly with atomistic simulations and revealed that the yield stress—the point of transition from plastic to elastic response—agreed well with MD predictions.


The ultrafast evolution of microstructure is key to understanding high-pressure and strain-rate phenomena. However, the visualization of lattice dynamics at scales commensurate with those of atomistic simulations has been challenging. Here, we report femtosecond x-ray diffraction measurements unveiling the response of copper to laser shock-compression at peak normal elastic stresses of ~73 gigapascals (GPa) and strain rates of 109 per second. We capture the evolution of the lattice from a one-dimensional (1D) elastic to a 3D plastically relaxed state within a few tens of picoseconds, after reaching shear stresses of 18 GPa. Our in situ high-precision measurement of material strength at spatial (<1 micrometer) and temporal (<50 picoseconds) scales provides a direct comparison with multimillion-atom molecular dynamics simulations.

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