There has been relatively little study on time-dependent mechanical properties of nanowires, in spite of their importance for the design, fabrication and operation of nanoscale devices. Here we report a dislocation-mediated, time-dependent and fully reversible plastic behaviour in penta-twinned silver nanowires. In situ tensile experiments inside scanning and transmission electron microscopes show that penta-twinned silver nanowires undergo stress relaxation on loading and complete plastic strain recovery on unloading, while the same experiments on single-crystalline silver nanowires do not exhibit such a behaviour. Molecular dynamics simulations reveal that the observed behaviour in penta-twinned nanowires originates from the surface nucleation, propagation and retraction of partial dislocations. More specifically, vacancies reduce dislocation nucleation barrier, facilitating stress relaxation, while the twin boundaries and their intrinsic stress field promote retraction of partial dislocations, resulting in full strain recovery.
1D nanostructures are widely regarded as important building blocks for a broad range of applications. Here, the authors study dislocation-mediated plastic deformation in penta-twinned silver nanowires, finding that in situ deformation at small to moderate strains can be entirely reversible.