Making strong nanomaterials ductile with gradients

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Science  19 Sep 2014:
Vol. 345, Issue 6203, pp. 1455-1456
DOI: 10.1126/science.1255940

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Steels can be made stronger, tougher, or more resistant to corrosion either by changing composition (adding in more carbon or other elements) or by modifying their microstructures. An extreme microstructural route for strengthening materials is to reduce the crystallite size from the micrometer scale (“coarse-grained”) to the nanoscale. Nanograined aluminum or copper (Cu) may become even harder than high-strength steels, but these materials can be very brittle and crack when pulled (deformed in tension), apparently because strain becomes localized and resists deformation. However, nanograined metals can be plastically deformed under compression or rolling at ambient temperature, implying that moderate deformation can occur if the cracking process is suppressed. Tremendous efforts have been made to explore how to suppress strain localization in tensioned nanomaterials and make them ductile. Gradient microstructures, in which the grain size increases from nanoscale at the surface to coarse-grained in the core, were recently discovered to be an effective approach to improving ductility (14).