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Taking the Strain
When heavily deformed through compressive or torsional loading, crystalline metals will generate an increasing density of defects or dislocations that effectively strengthens the metal against further deformation. However, at some stage, the fine-grained structure that forms saturates. Liu et al. (p. 337; see the Perspective by Ramtani), show that combining the application of a very-high-rate shear deformation with high strain gradients to the surface layer of a pure sample of nickel can overcome this saturation. Instead of a three-dimensional fine-grained structure, a top layer with a two-dimensional layered structure occupied the first 80 micrometers. In addition to being stronger, this layered nickel structure was also more thermally stable.
Heavy plastic deformation may refine grains of metals and make them very strong. But the strain-induced refinement saturates at large strains, forming three-dimensional ultrafine-grained (3D UFG) structures with random orientations. Further refinement of this microstructure is limited because of the enhanced mobility of grain boundaries. Very-high-rate shear deformation with high strain gradients was applied in the top surface layer of bulk nickel, where a 2D nanometer-scale laminated structure was induced. The strongly textured nanolaminated structure (average lamellar thickness of 20 nanometers) with low-angle boundaries among the lamellae is ultrahard and ultrastable: It exhibits a hardness of 6.4 gigapascal—which is higher than any reported hardness of the UFG nickel—and a coarsening temperature of 40 kelvin above that in UFG nickel.